Review Summary: Smashing stuff
What’s in a name? Depends who you ask. Since Corgan revived the Smashing Pumpkins in 2006 a lot of words have gone back and forth between fans over whether or not this qualifies as the real SP. It’s certainly been no secret that even with James Iha, Darcy Wretsky and Jimmy Chamberlain filling the roles in the ‘classic’ line-up SP has been Corgan’s baby. Even going back as far as 1993’s Siamese Dream
, there were stories of Corgan taking control of all musical matters (whether it be through necessity or otherwise) and even reports of him pushing band members out of chairs in order to record parts. You could argue that the aforementioned three were hired hands, much like the situation SP find themselves in today. Is it any coincidence that this album shares a name with Orwell’s totalitarian nation-state from Nineteen Eighty-Four? Probably, but it’s a fun theory to espouse upon anyway.
Since 2006, we’ve had the much-maligned and patchy Zeitgeist
as well as the sprawling and just a tad confused Teargarden By Kaleidyscope
series. Corgan’s usual prolific output was there, but the quality was lacking. It gave rise to the notions put forth by naysayers that Corgan had lost it, ruining his legacy in the process.
Really, it’s a shame that Oceania
is not the first comeback record, because it’s a fine collection of music that both anchors itself in that classic Pumpkins sound whilst managing to deploy a number of new tricks. Opener “Quasar” is a rambunctious, wailing beast of a song with a number of different speeds and moods. Following immediately after is “Panopticon”, a song in a similar vein to its predecessor; waves of guitar backed by Mike Byrne’s tight drumming and Corgan’s trademark (for better or worse) voice singing about suns and moons and Lord knows what else.
What sets Oceania
apart from its reformation predecessors is its strong production. Whereas Zeitgeist
was a brash and messy guitar-driven record that stalled as a result of questionable mixing, the new record is a cleaner, more clinical effort. Each musician is given the necessary time and space to utilise and make known their talents, in turn contributing to a more complete and beneficial set of song structures. For instance, Nicole Fiorentino’s bass playing comes to the fore on tracks like “The Celestials” and “Pale Horse”, flitting between a reedier, harmonious sound to a deep, rounded rumble at will. The guitar playing follows a similar course, and we are given a demonstration of just how versatile both Corgan and fellow guitarist Jeff Schroeder are. From the classic rock-style harmonising of “The Chimera”, the adventurous solos on “Inkless” and to the myriad methods of playing on the album’s eponymous centrepiece track, the record is a boon those who enjoy well-crafted guitar work. Mike Byrne is an excellent successor to the throne once so ably occupied by Chamberlain. Provided that Byrne, at only 22 years of age, stays in the group, then he can only get even better from here on out.
Corgan and his group should be praised. Instead of relying upon the old classics, touring the same old stuff, he and SP have forged ahead to create a record that could well be the catalyst of a stellar second era for one of rock’s more interesting groups.