Review Summary: An unassuming achievement from the King of Complacency.
Perhaps what’s so immediately striking about Ogilala
is its lack of pretension. Coming from William “Billy” Corgan, who was the king of one of the greatest alt-rock bands of all-time (and made sure everyone knew it), it’s wholly unexpected for him to have put forth such a modest recording. Maybe it’s that under the Pumpkins name he feels like he has something to prove, but under his own he allows himself to just make music.
The album’s simple nature rests at the core of its musicality. Acoustic guitars, echoing pianos, and sweeping strings are unburdened by the electric or electronic, which only serve as accents on one or two small moments throughout the work. The simplicity of the record doesn’t mask its depth, however. There’s a blanketing fullness to the record that I’m sure producer Rick Rubin is at least partially responsible for. Every song, no matter how slight or timid, has the strength and sonic vibrance of any one of Corgan’s endeavors with the Pumpkins.
This creates something so completely warm and familiar in Ogilala
. Despite this not being an album to blow you away or even immediately captivate your attention, it’s something that you can simply feel good listening to. It’s easily the prettiest thing he’s ever put together as a whole, and there’s an amiable quality to it that relaxes rather than astounds. Much of it can feel repetitive at times, but it works in a calming way. It’s as if Corgan’s saying, “This is what we’re doing now and we’re just gonna do it. You don’t have to stretch your mind, just open your ears for us.” It’s just nice to have music like that every once in a while, especially when it’s done in such a lovely way.
The been-there-done-that feel does ultimately harm the album in the long run. There are a couple of songs (namely “Antietam” and “Shiloh”) that feature little more than a gentle strum pattern and good-natured vibes, and while they both serve as pleasant listens, they both represent sounds and ideas already well-represented in the album. Despite a very short run-time compared to his previous endeavors, cutting these tracks from the album would be no great loss. There’s also a likelihood that on repeated listens I’m not going to be able to tell the songs apart due to the similar trajectories of so many of the tracks. But when it comes down to it, it’s hard to dislike any of them due to how agreeable and good-natured they are.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t any standouts either. Piano driven tracks such as opener “Zowie” and the string-laden “Mandarynne” serve as memorable and richly melodic songs in their own right, that work well in and out of the context of the album. “Archer” manages to encapsulate the entire mood of the album perfectly. Corgan’s elegant vocal melodies and the affecting instrumentation stand out here like no other, and one can’t help but be reminded of the previously confounding album cover. The song, just like the artwork, is nothing but a warm memory. A child is lifted by his mother as he reaches up to the sun. I am reminded of the happiness of that situation. The innocence. The wonder. The melancholy of the nostalgia and knowing you’ll never feel it again. But you know you could never forget it.
, it’s entirely likely that Corgan was just trying to make a straightforward good
album. He isn’t trying to surprise or astonish, just to please us and make us feel good and warm. And if that’s the case, I’d say he’s done something right.