Review Summary: "Oceania" is much more than an album fully capable of standing alongside the original lineup's slew of classic records- it is also Billy Corgan's bold and undeniable reassertion of his relevance and overwhelming ability as a songwriter.
If there is one lesson we can learn from "Oceania", it is that no one should give up on a musician as prolific as Billy Corgan. True, the first five years of The Smashing Pumpkin's reunion were tumultuous enough to test the patience of even the most die hard of fans. From the mediocrity of the band's lackluster comeback album, "Zeitgeist", to the almost disastrous first phase of the ambitious but horrendously executed "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope" project, it is fairly obvious why people began losing faith in Billy, and it seemed like all the bald-headed alternative rock hero was capable of doing was tarnishing the iconic legacy he built for himself in the 90's. However, with "Oceania," Corgan and his new, young band of Pumpkins have surprisingly managed to strike gold with what appears to be one of the finest rock album's of 2012, and they have also added a worthy addition to the Pumpkin's body of work. Believe it or not, "Oceania" is much more than an album fully capable of standing alongside the original lineup's slew of classic records- it is also Billy Corgan's bold and undeniable reassertion of his relevance and overwhelming ability as a songwriter.
The genius of "Oceania" lies in it's incredibly consistent flow. While its highest points may not be on par with those of "Siamese Dream" or "Mellon Collie", it manages to be the most enveloping album The Smashing Pumpkins have ever composed. From the rousing opener, "Quasar", which features refreshingly aggressive and distorted guitars, to the album's beautiful closing piece, "Wildflower", which calmly draws the album to a satisfying end, "Oceania" offers a remarkable and progressive journey that conjures a plethora of moods, many of which hearken back to some of the band's classic moments while somehow still managing to push the Pumpkin's sound forward into new territory. On this journey, the band ventures through some of the dreamiest, most enthralling soundscapes Billy Corgan has ever had a hand in composing, with each member showing the necessary amount of technical proficiency to showcase their cohesiveness as a band. Corgan and Jeff Schroeder both do a great job with the guitars as they churn out a number of memorable solos and often utilize multiple guitar layers throughout songs to get the most out of their instruments. Nicole Fiorentino also definitely makes the presence of her bass felt throughout the album, but her greatest contribution may be with her soothing backing vocals, which serve as excellent compliments to Corgan’s lead parts. As for the drumming, Mike Byrne certainly cannot compete the overwhelming skill exuded by his predecessor, Jimmy Chamberlin, but he does a proficient job in his own right, and at the young age of 22, he displays a great deal of potential and promise. Perhaps the most surprising key quality exhibited by "Oceania", however, is not the way these musicians each play a noticeable role, but how well produced the album sounds. No longer do songs feel woefully under or overdone as they did on most of the band's recent efforts. Instead, every musician is given the space necessary to shine when they need to, and Billy’s vocals are handled exceptionally well. His voice is no longer a hollow, whiny shell floating over the mix unattractively as it did in “Zeitgeist”. Now, it fits perfectly with everything else, his delivery sounding the best it has since the original band’s heyday, which is good, considering that “Oceania” offers his finest, most interesting lyrical work since “Machina”. His voice is full of effort and relatable emotion, and there is a factor of sincerity in his vocals that get the most out of every melody he employs, all of which feel smartly chosen.
In short, “Oceania” is a compelling album that demands to be heard in its entirety. Each song is as valuable as any other, and the album exerts an impressive stability in each track’s high level of quality. Every piece here is composed of many interesting musical parts, and they all have something that could be considered as an album highlight. For example, “Panopticon” champions it’s utterly captivating riffs, while “The Celestials” showcases its constantly evolving structure to create one of the finest love songs Corgan has written- think "Stand Inside Your Love" but with a more epic construction. “Pinwheels” is heart-wrenchingly gentle and beautiful, and the album centerpiece, title track “Oceania”, serves as the band’s most gripping, towering, progressive number yet. “Pale Horse” expertly captures the band’s more gothic “Adore” era, while the very next track, “The Chimera” mimics the buzzing, distorted guitars found on “Siamese Dream” almost perfectly, and “Glissandra” is inescapably dreamy with it’s enamoring synth hooks and the album’s most infectious vocal line, “I used to know what the wish was for." Beyond these examples, it must be stressed that every song here deserves to be completely explored to its fullest depths. The most mesmerizing factor about "Oceania", however, is the way in which every song manages to sound unique, but still naturally a part of the same whole. The only way it can be explained is through a unique brand of Smashing Pumpkins magic, something that Billy Corgan has finally harnessed once again. Simply put, "Oceania" is a classic album that exemplifies the sound of a band that is "in the zone," so to speak. Welcome back, Smashing Pumpkins. It's been far too long, and we've missed you.