Review Summary: Yod He Vau He Om!
In the nineties, farmer Corgan was not your average, run-of-the-mill pumpkin farmer. In fact, as pumpkin farmers go, his pumpkin patch was second to none. What had made his pumpkin patch seem so distinctive and original was the brand of seeds he had used. This particular brand of seeds remained consistent throughout the entire decade and won him many obscure pumpkin-related prizes such as the ‘Gish Award for Best Newcomer 1991’ as well as first place in ‘The Siamese Dream County Fair’ in 1993 for how well his pumpkins had been produced. However, these seeds arguably fell into a decline towards the end, as Corgan decided to plant the seeds further away from sunny spots and into more dark and industrial territories. Eventually, the seeds simply could not function together without enough nourishment from the sun and Corgan subsequently stopped using them and retired from the pumpkin farming industry.
When Corgan returned years later with a slightly different brand of seeds, many fellow farmers dismissed his new pumpkins as hollow and unattractive, much like Jack-O-Lanterns, and it was apparent that all hope was lost for Farmer Corgan. This was when Farmer Corgan decided that he had to make a comeback, or at least have another attempt at a comeback. Corgan's new pumpkin patch however, is beginning to diminish his recent reputation as a fortune faded farmer in the media’s eye, as this new and improved batch has managed to recapture some of what made his unique pumpkin brand such a hoot in his glory days.
(At the risk of creating too large a metaphor, I will now proceed to review the album conventionally. After all, this isn't Pitchfork.)
The first thing to discuss is the musicianship. It. Is. Tight. Many purist fans will inevitably dislike drummer Mike Byrne, giving him a permanent Chamberlain comparison, but the fact is that many of his fills are still solid at the very worst of times and for a 22 year old, give the guy a break. Bassist Nicole Florentino also reveals plenty of potential; especially on her highlight 'Pale Horse' in which she also contributes soothing backup vocals. This song alone proves how the Pumpkins still have the ability to drive a song without the need for blistering guitar riffs. That said, there plenty of guitar scorchers on the album such as 'The Chimera' and the enjoyable 'Glissandra'. The guitar onslaught on opener 'Quasar' is also impressive and anthem-esque despite Corgan's attempts to ruin the song by saying "Right on!" several times throughout the song like a 30-year-old frat boy stuck in a time warp. Getting back to the point, this album showcases that Corgan, with some help from fellow guitarist Jeff Schroeder, definitely still has it.
The lyrics in 'The Celestials' "I will be special K.... I'm gonna love you 101%" are arguably below tolerable at times, although the song’s misleading acoustic intro paves way to an excellent early album treat. Another early treat is the incredible 'Panopticons' which, probably my personal favourite on the album, definitely re-establishes Corgan’s occasional lyrical genius with the line, “There’s a world that stares out of me”. This marathon of a track could easily be the comeback single and potentially launch the Pumpkins back into mainstream radio. The poppy 'My Love Is Winter' is also single material; that song is just dandy. The benevolent 'One Diamond One Heart' which succeeds this track is also dandy but perhaps contrasts with heavier tracks ever so slightly. Another contrast is the bizarre automatic techno start of the highlight 'Pinwheels' which can spark a labyrinth of thought if listened to late enough in the night (trust me).
The ‘prog’ attempt 'Oceania' is a key track; both one of the greatest and worst on this album. The first three and a half minutes are beyond excellent but the sudden xylophone tingle following this simply screams 'lazy-segue-into-next-part-of-the-song' as it sticks the sections together with an adhesive as strong as a sticky note. The uninspired acoustic middle section is ultimately pedestrian but is hastily replaced with a synth build up which seems hollow at first but becomes completely adequate when it allows a worthy guitar solo to enter the gates of Oceania. The short solo during 'Inkless' is also a notable feature within this album. The semi-confessional closer 'Wildflowers' also features a heavily produced guitar solo in harmony with a modest string section.
It is obvious that Farmer Corgan has definitely provided his new patch with plenty of nutrients, regular watering and a multitude of sunshine without overdoing it on the pesticide. This album truly marks the next great wave of the Pumpkin’s reign as rulers of alternative rock. There’s enough semi-nostalgia within Oceania which harks back to their first three albums, but Corgan and his pumpkins have somehow maintained the balance and have prevented listeners from becoming sentimentally sordid. Moreover, they have allowed this semi-nostalgia to intertwine with the album’s astonishing modern production, resulting in their brightest album thus far. This album is suitable and plain awesome enough for the 90’s generation whilst being simultaneously up-to-date and relevant for the current generation.