Smashing Pumpkins' Oceania is Billy Corgan's best work in over a decade
You might say Billy Corgan has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman (and only remaining original member) has never been one to keep his opinions to himself, and in the lead-up to the release of the new Pumpkins album, Oceania, he’s been even more bitchy than usual. He’s lashed out at a couple of his former bandmates, calling drummer Jimmy Chamberlin “a fucking liar” and describing guitarist James Iha as “just a piece of shit. I think he’s one of the worst human beings I’ve ever met in my life.”
The Mouth That Roared has also slagged Radiohead for its “pomposity” and bemoaned the “value system that says Jonny Greenwood is more valuable than Ritchie Blackmore”. Said “value system” is part and parcel of a music industry that's been “taken over by posers”.
Nonetheless, Corgan soldiers on (joined now by guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino, and powerhouse drummer Mike Byrne), and he’s back to making LPs again. Remember how he was abandoning the format, and planned to release the opus called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope one song at a time? Well, at 13 tracks, Oceania—the latest chapter in that ongoing project—is unmistakably an album.
It starts with a couple of amped-up fist-pumpers (“Quasar” and “Panopticon”), but for the most part, Corgan steers away from the unrelenting heaviness that made 2007’s Zeitgeist such a tiring listen. Instead, he delivers everything from the blistering rock of “The Chimera”, which boasts multitracked guitars as thick and sinewy as anything on Siamese Dream (and drum thunder from Mike Byrne that rivals Chamberlin’s best), to the ornate synthesizer ballad “Wildflower”, which closes the record.
Corgan’s lyrics are mostly mystifying (there’s a lot of stuff about God and love and divine purpose), and occasionally just awful, as on “The Celestials”, where he sings, presumably unironically, “I’m gonna love you 101 percent.” Musically, though, Oceania is his best, and most ambitious, work in over a decade. Its centrepiece is its nine-minute title track, which is more like a mini-suite, moving from swooningly soaring rock to unplugged meditation to synth-chilled coldwave before coming to a head with some unhinged lead guitar. Better still is “Pale Horse”, an atmospheric slow-burner that recalls the Disintegration-era Cure in its dark grandeur.
Will Oceania unseat Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, or even Adore, as your go-to Smashing Pumpkins LP? Probably not. But it is good enough to suggest that Corgan has earned the right to be a cocky asshole once in a while.