Nov 292012

I got into a discussion recently with a co-worker who loves The Smashing Pumpkins.

He remembered seeing Billy Corgan on stage at The Ritz in Ybor City several years ago. He described his emotional connection to Gish and Siamese Dream.

So I recommended he check out the Pumpkins’ newest disc, Oceania. I told him it reminded me of the band pre-Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, back when it seemed like Corgan was speaking directly to me, whispering confessionals in my ear, through songs like “Today” and “Disarm.”

(Quick confession of my own: My all-time favorite Pumpkins track is actually “Drown” off the Singles soundtrack.)

So my colleague went out and bought Oceania, and absolutely hated it. Passionately, vocally hated it.

And yet, here I am, recommending to you, the masses, that you give this album a chance. Here’s why: This is the best lineup that Corgan has assembled since the heyday of James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlin. And it’s the best that Billy has sounded in years. He actually, honestly, sounds loose, free and poetic once again.

Oceania kicks off with a double-slice of classic Pumpkins guitar rock before settling in. Corgan has always been a master of maneuvering through blasts of distortion to mine canyons of quiet before erupting with scathing vitriol or unexpected melody.

And to be honest, Oceania is at its best in the quieter moments. Songs like “The Celestials,” “Pinwheels” and “The Chimera” remind you of the beauty that Corgan used to capture effortlessly without forsaking his love of full-throated rock. “The Chimera” is the standout, worthy of mainstream radio appreciation.

The wild card here is the divisive, near-10 minute title track.

It’s over-ambitious, full of rock star excess and prone to unnecessary, selfish flourishes – all hallmark criticism of Corgan when the Pumpkins decline officially kicked in post-1995, but the words still manage to claw out from the rubble to offer a plaintive, very personal admission:

No one can love you

‘Cause no one can free you

Lovers can’t touch you

‘Cause lovers might reach you, yeah

I’m so alone, so alone

But better than a wretched world

Better than a broken pearl

I’m so alone, so alone

But better than I ever was

It’s unclear if Oceania marks the next phase of Corgan and the Pumpkins’ career, or a proper coda after 2007’s wretched Zeitgeist, a bloated mess of an album.

If it is indeed the first step in the next direction, it’s a good one. Oceania isn’t a perfect album, and Corgan may be too far removed from the days when he could easily tap into our collective conscience and deliver a blistering sermon, but there are moments that remind you what it was like to have Billy in the pulpit, the place we needed him then and still want him to be.

The Smashing Pumpkins – The Celestials
The Smashing Pumpkins – The Chimera
The Smashing Pumpkins – Pinwheels

The Smashing Pumpkins Official Site, The Smashing Pumpkins on Facebook, The Smashing Pumpkins on Spotify, Buy Oceania

John Allman

In 1975, my parents made a fateful decision, the first of many, that set me upon my chosen path. They took me with them to see "Jaws." In the bathroom, after the movie ended, my Dad said he heard a young voice saying over and over, "Smile you son of a bitch." He opened the stall door to find his 5-year-old son gleefully blasting the bowl with urine the way Roy Scheider blew up the air tank in the shark's mouth. Two years later, they took me with them to see the King, Elvis Presley, mere months before his unfortunate death. Elvis wasn't on his A game as he stumbled through a two-night, sold-out stand at the old Charlotte Colosseum. But we had floor seats, row 22, and my mother was shrieking like a schoolgirl. Women everywhere in the arena were freaking out. I just remember thinking, why is the big man in the jumpsuit cussing so much on stage? That's right - Jaws and Fat Elvis, my earliest memories of film and music, two defining moments in my young life. Today, thankfully, I have evolved from those humble beginnings to have an appreciation for most cinematic and musical genres. But my heart remains rooted in those formative years. I still love horror more than any other type of movie, and I choose to remember Elvis from his Sun Records days, long before the white jumpsuit, when he was full of swagger and fire, helping build a label defined by the all-time greats.

  2 Responses to “The Smashing Pumpkins — Oceania”

  1. Excellent album. The Celestials is as good a song anything Corgan has done since Siamese Dream.

  2. Appreciate the recommendation! I actually got to see these guys a few years ago at a sold out show at House of Blues in Orlando, and was blown away with their performance (and their stage set-up). I also just heard that they’re playing a few dates with a new Spanish rock band called A Band of Bitches. What I thought was funny was that the masks these band members wear actually look like Billy Corgan! Definitely check them out in the new video they released for “Noreste Caliente”

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