Review Summary: For the first time ever, The Smashing Pumpkins sound like a band. And for the first time in 15 years, The Smashing Pumpkins put out a good, cohesive, solid album.
This Teargarden by Kaleidyscope crap has been a complete stain on the legacy of the Pumpkins. Not much legacy is left anyway because Corgan did a very good job ruining the legacy with the horrific Zeitgeist album and his attitude on the 20th Anniversary Tour. The band had become a relic of the 90s. Partially to fault is Teargarden, which had a few gems like "Freak USA" or "Tom Tom", but there was far too much crap on that collection of albums to avoid that final nail in the coffin. Songs like “Spangled” off Teargarden were flat out embarrassing to listen to in public. The band was dead to me.
So, someone please explain to me how Oceania is a pretty good album. It’s not amazing. It’s pretty good though. Some are overpraising Oceania and claiming it a classic; not so fast. It is definitely listenable and replayable; I’ll be jamming to it now, the near future and probably 20 years in the future. What it’s done is give me hope that there is a future for this band. Corgan hasn’t wrote a song as good as “Inkless” in 15 years. While Zeitgeist was middle of the road, it reeked of stagnation. This explores territory the band hasn’t really ventured down before and gives me solid hope that the next album will be an immediate classic.
The main reason I can’t call this a classic is that this album has a few glaring problems. First off, there are way too many duds on this album. “One Diamond, One Heart” recalls way too much of Teargarden’s notorious "circus" synthesizers. This sounds like a really bad Flaming Lips outtake. Remember Yoshi’s Island for N64? I feel like this song should’ve been on that soundtrack. It just sounds really out of place on a pretty solid modern alternative rock record. The title track, “Oceania” is like really good foreplay, but no climax. There’s a lot of potential that builds up--the first few minutes are spectacular--but the track never gets that interesting
and doesn't ever go much louder than a 7 on the guitar amp. Live, the song had an emotional climax with the “And still she’s gone” part over some guitars. Not here, as Corgan neutered it with his circus keyboards. To compound matters, the song is so disjointed and there’s no continuity. Another major dud is “Wildflower”, a complete train wreck with far too much in common with “Pomp and Circumstances” from Zeitgeist (not a good thing).
Corgan’s vocals, while light years better here than on Zeitgeist or Teargarden, still, to be nice, suck. There’s emotion here now, but the mix is dry and occasionally his vocals are unpleasant and jarring, say, in “Wildflower” or the not-too-shabby “Violet Rays”. Other times it’s pretty melodic and satisfactory and hidden in the mix, like “Quasar”. Or sometimes he just actually sounds good, like “Pale Horse”. The lyrics are pretty lame and sappy, but would you expect anything different from Corgan? I mean, "I'll kiss anyone tonight," is classic Corgan. At least he’s pronouncing consonants in his vocals.
However, these duds are incredibly passable because Oceania’s strength is how cohesive the album is. As a fan that has listened to quite possibly every Pumpkins song ever, I’ve never
heard the Pumpkins sound like a band and this makes this album seem like a beautiful, overarching cohesive whole. There are some peaks that I haven’t heard the Pumpkins hit in years. Corgan’s guitar playing is as great as its always been, but it’s incredibly obvious that Nicole Florentino and Jeff Schroeder are quadruple the bassist and guitarist D’Arcy Wretzky and James Iha ever were. Florentino’s basslines are immaculate and there’s such an undercutting groove here I’ve never heard. Listen to “My Love is Winter”. Florentino’s bass is thudding along and gives the song an incredible groove while Schroeder has some high pitched guitar that just brings the song together. It’s so catchy and just has that thick sound post Mellon Collie Pumpkins had nailed down, this is clearly the next version of "Stand Inside Your Love". And I like it.
“The Celestials” is where you really can tell this is a true band. It’s all cheery and acoustic at the beginning, until the song picks up. It’s a nice crunchy evolution in which every single band member clearly is playing to the best of their abilities and it creates a sound that the band should definitely explore in the future that the Pumpkins haven’t explored in the past. “Pale Horse” is similar in the way it’s new territory for the band. It’s a really groovy psychedelic track that I just can’t help but move to, and Nicole’s vocals are haunting. “Pinwheels” makes effective use of the much maligned circus synthesizers from Teargarden, surprisingly. I thought this song would be garbage after hearing it live, but it’s so damn emotional and Nicole’s backup vocals are just spot on. It’s melodic, moving and emotional. I just want to listen to this at dawn with some headphones. It’s beautiful. Yet even with all these new directions for the band, Corgan harks back to the buzz of past with songs like “Quasar”, “Panopticon” and “Inkless”. These tracks have made it obvious Corgan found the recipe to his buzzsaw guitar sound again. It was gapingly missing from Zeitgeist. “Inkless” is a stunningly gritty track that is catchy as hell and has a groove and a great structure; even a quiet breakdown, ripped straight from Siamese Dream. The time rhythm shift in the middle for the prechorus rocks, and I just can’t stop singing “The stars are out tonight”. This song really blew my expectations out of the water.
Notice I haven’t mentioned Byrne. It’s because he’s a completely forgettable drummer. Any drummer can notice that his drumming has been so
tweaked with Pro Tools it’s not even funny. He obliterates the snare and I cannot stand the sound of it. But, still, it’s a pretty serviceable rhythm section. He’s definitely not Jimmy Chamberlin, but let’s be honest; Corgan could’ve done better. This album would’ve been immensely better with Chamberlin, or hell, even Matt Walker from Adore. He's not terrible, he's just completely forgettable and average. The band is full of great musicians in the current lineup, and because of this, Byrne sticks out like a sore thumb.
Pretty much, the album as a whole blew my expectations out of the water. It is the natural evolution from Adore. MACHINA was kind of an unexpected curveball but was clearly the sound of a band falling apart. Oceania is the sound of a band coming together. It’s quite flawed. I really enjoyed the way the sonic landscape pulls you in a lot of different sonic directions, for example, “Quasar” and “One Diamond” are completely different. Mellon Collie was similar in that fashion. Flawed as well; it pulled you in completely different sonic directions. Yet, Mellon Collie had higher peaks and less flaws, but Oceania is still definitely similar. It's the best album since Mellon Collie. However, there are quite a few forgettable tracks and some that really just get lost in the flow of the album, especially with gems like “The Celestials” or “My Love is Winter”. These two are some of Corgan's best tracks ever. But it’s so cohesive that even a forgettable track like “The Chimera” works; it helps drive the groove, the mood and is still singable and easy to hum along to. If you take Oceania as a debut album, it’s damn good. And, heck, it doesn’t sound like it was produced in a bunker, like Zeitgeist. This is the start to the real Smashing Pumpkins v2. Let’s forget Zeitgeist ever happened, and hope he abandons Teargarden, alright?
YOU MUST DOWNLOAD:
The Celestials, My Love is Winter, Pinwheels, Pale Horse, Inkless