Review Summary: this record hopefully represents a pivot in corgan's career.
"It is the first time where you actually hear me escape the old band.
I'm not reacting against it or for it or in the shadow of it." - billy
corgan on oceania
i gave this a wide berth for several weeks out of what really
ultimately reduces to intense fear.
while the smashing pumpkins haven't always been my favourite band,
they have certainly been my favourite band most often over the period
tracing back to when i was about twelve years old or so. certainly, no
other act, save perhaps REM, has been as formative, or has provided me
with as many headphone hours, or has hit me on such a profound level,
first as an awkward and marginalized teenager, later as a devastated
young person and still later as a completely broken adult. there are
relationship records, breakup records, party records......and then
there are rock-bottom records, the kind that hit you most effectively
when things couldn't possibly get much worse, that only really make
sense in those circumstances where suicide seems like a valid
the smashing pumpkins are an essential, indivisible, irreplaceable and
yet deeply *intangible* component of my existence. they're
simultaneously a teddy bear, a syringe and a knife meant for
so, when i claim fear as a disincentive to explore the record, that's
stated with the thrust of something deeper than a shrug and a cringe.
and, what other reaction could there have been to the teargarten
kaleidoscope thing/project? it seems like each successive project
since siamese dream has become progressively more difficult to listen
to. while that record may be an impossible to match peak, the descent
has been astoundingly perverse to experience. what hill becomes
steeper as it approaches the ground? or is it in fact approaching an
abyss? nor is the descent into insanity as is often the case when
genius erodes - in fact, corgan descended into madness many, many
years ago - but a descent into mediocrity, inanity and irrelevance.
the interesting question for several years now has been when it is
that corgan, himself, is going to finally hit rock-bottom, what it's
going to sound like when he does and what it's going to sound like as
he slowly climbs his way out.
i think this record provides the answer to that. his rock-bottom stage
may have occurred a few years ago, when he was recorded berating a
handful of 15 year-old kids, visibly embarrassed by the audience he
was able to generate for himself. it may have sounded like the singles
released through the kaleidoscope project. oceania may be what it
sounds like as he begins the slow crawl towards daylight....
aiding him in what is now his struggle to reassert himself as a
relevant, creative musician is the long sought for re-establishment of
his relationship with his guitar. for the first time in well over a
decade, the instrument is the true focal point of the record - not in
the form of power chords and riffs but in the form of expressive lead
work and abstract songwriting. the title track, oceania, is also the
first coherent epic that corgan has produced since 'for martha'.
i need to be clear in stating that this is a first step out of the
darkness, rather than a reassertion of brilliance. this is not a great
record, but merely a mediocre one with flashes of extreme brilliance.
yet, who was truly expecting one? in truth, the flashes are a pleasant
surprise! nor is it certain that recovery is inevitable. what *does*
seem certain is that corgan's tastes have permanently changed. while
the production and writing is more deliberate, the record remains full
of difficult to rationalize cheese - both on the
pop-punk/emo/hair-metal side of the spectrum and the 80's pop side of
things, even going so far as to explore territory that would be better
left on a coldplay record.
yet, as the general expectation was nothing short of pure awful, the
high points - the expressive guitar playing, the immense production,
the deep overdubs, the epic and abstract songwriting and even the
return of a recognizable pumpkins *feel* at points - are immensely
....for now. ultimately, it's substantially and comprehensively and
objectively more interesting than zeitgeist, and may end up viewed as
of comparable or higher quality than machina, but is still likely to
rank on the weaker end of the band's output.
what's exciting about it is that it reasserts some hope for corgan's