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The Second Coming of the Smashing Pumpkins
on 23 June 2012
Until recently I wished that Billy Corgan had never reformed the Smashing Pumpkins. As a die-hard fan, the mediocrity of Zeitgeist was hard to stomach - but not half as hard as the forgettable Teargarden material that followed. Only 'The Rose March' off the American Gothic EP hinted that Corgan still had the ability to pen a good song, but even then the rest of that EP was disappointing. With each new offering, I became more and more convinced that Corgan's creative juices had run dry.
Then along came Oceania, and Corgan's claim that it was the best thing he'd done since Mellon Collie. I bought the album more in hope than expectation, deliberately ignoring the growing buzz and the free availability of the tracks online. I went in almost totally cold (I'd heard a bit of My Love Is Winter six months before, but that was the only exposure I had).
I was promptly blown away. Corgan is right: this *is* the best thing he's done since Mellon Collie.
Stylistically Oceania contains hints of earlier albums; a touch of Gish's psychedelia, a bit of Siamese Dream's sonic fuzz, some of Mellon Collie's poetry and a few of the electronic beats and loops of Adore (thankfully there's none of Zeitgeist in there). There's even a touch of Zwan about it (Corgan's ill-fated post-Pumpkins band). Yet the end result is an album that sounds completely unique; it's unquestionably a Smashing Pumpkins album, but it feels different. It feels fresh - a new start, a rebirth.
Oceania mixes quite a few different styles. Quasar is a stomping rocker, a throwback to the Gish/Siamese Dream days. The Celestials showcases the classic soft/heavy dynamic that has always been the Pumpkins' trademark. My Love Is Winter is one of the more instantaneous tracks, and is driven by Mike Byrne's energetic drumming and Corgan's soaring guitar lines. One Diamond, One Heart is packed with melody and is led by synth. Pinwheels is as diverse a track as they've ever done, opening with an electronic loop before the sweeping guitars chime in, then elegantly morphing into something pleasantly surprising. The Chimera brings both the fuzz and the groove, and packs a melodic punch.
Despite the different styles and influences, the tracks all gel nicely and there's a real feel of continuity and consistency - which hasn't always been the case with Pumpkins records (Machina, for example, is a bit of a mess in this regard). It manages to rock without being that heavy an album, and the surprising amount of synth works perfectly and isn't overbearing. Corgan's voice sounds better than it has done for years - in fact, the production is vastly superior to previous albums. The new members of the Pumpkins bring a lot to the table; Byrne's drumming is excellent, while Nicole Fiorentino's bass and backing vocals add another dimension. Most importantly, Billy Corgan has rediscovered the creative spark that drove him to write the band's earlier classic albums. He's mined it to good effect here, and actually sounds like he's enjoying himself - Oceania is a surprisingly upbeat album. The Pumpkins sound like a rejuvenated band.
Hopefully this record will herald the start of a bright new chapter in the Pumpkins' chequered history, but only time will tell. What is certain though, is that Oceania is a sterling effort and a very welcome return to form for the Pumpkins. It may have taken Corgan six years since reforming the Pumpkins to produce something worthy of the band's name, but the wait was well worth it.