Review Summary: Well, at least it's better than Zeitgeist.
Tyrannical studio overlord Billy Corgan has always been the driving force behind The Smashing Pumpkins. And his oft reported megalomania may have not been as unwarranted as made out; their touring keyboardist did die after shooting up with drummer Jimmy Chamberlain in 1996 and D'arcy Wretzky's arrest for possession of crack-cocaine shortly after she left the band in 1999 gave some weight to Corgan's accusations of her descent into 'madness/drugs' during the recording of Mellon Collie. So even though 2005's Pumpkin's 'reunion' did feel hollow considering it was actually just Corgan and Chamberlain, it was certainly conceivable another truly great Pumpkin's record could come out of it.
Zeitgeist wasn't that record. Arriving two years later, it was noisy and brash, and screamed 'we're back, listen to us'. But even Corgan himself conceded most people didn't listen, observing that 'In the past if you put out an album, people at least knew the first song. We would go out and play 'Doomsday Clock' and I could tell that they hadn't even listened to it.'. Zeitgeist wasn't a total failure, but it was their poorest LP to date, feeling one-sided and overly aggressive. Chamberlain subsequently left/was fired, depending on who's account you choose to believe, in 2009.
And then there was one. Undeterred and audacious as ever, Corgan quickly recruited 19 year old drummer Mike Byrne and announced his plan to release a 44 track concept album called Tear Garden By Kaleidyscope over the internet, one track at a time. A couple of EPs worth of material later, full time guitarist Jeff Schroeder and bassist Nicole Forentino were recruited and Oceania was announced as an 'album within an album'.
Opener Quasar genuinely sounds like it could have been left over from Gish; propelled forward by Byrne's restless and muscular drumming and crammed full of trademark spiralling guitar riffs it finds Corgan shouting 'God, ride on, Krishna, ride on, ma, ride on, Yod He Vau'. 'Violet Rays' is an affecting, swelling dream-pop ballad and get past its melodramatic title and 'My Love Is Winter' is an absolute gem, all swooning vocals and soaring guitar solos. It's The Pumpkins at their inimitable best; majestic, dreamy, uplifting and utterly addictive. Unfortunately the middle sags; 'Pinwheels' is an aimless excursion into synth-pop and the nine minute 'Oceania' is plain unnecessary falling far short of previous epics 'Porcelina of the Vast Oceans' or 'The Aeroplane Flies High'. Things pick up with 'Glissandra' and 'Inkless' two straight forward, competent mid-tempo rockers before 'Wildflower' closes the record gently.
The expectation and anticipation surrounding Oceania have done it no favours. Despite being superior to Zeitgeist it still falls short of anything The Pumpkins released during the nineties. It isn't a classic, nor even a return to form. It's inconsistent, as were Adore and Machina but their high-points (and there were many on both albums) were better than anything on offer here (with the possible exception of 'My Love Is Winter'). The best record Corgan has released in a decade is Mary, Star of the Sea with short-lived super-group Zwan. It was also the one least affected, tainted or associated with the Pumpkins moniker (he chose the release date of his only true solo offering in 2005 to announce the reunion of The Pumpkins). Labouring under the weight and legacy of the most important band on the 90's can't be easy, but at worst Oceania is a step in the right direction to doing that legacy justice.