Review : The Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania
BbcThere are few groups in modern music that testify to the power that is the name of a band to quite the degree of The Smashing Pumpkins. The group’s legion of devoted and attentive fans know that Oceania is really the work of one man: they know that Billy Corgan writes all the songs, they know that in the studio he plays many of the instruments, they know that he’s responsible for the hiring and the firing of those with whom he chooses to share a stage.
They also know that, of the line-up that recorded what the cognoscenti believe to be the group’s classic albums (1993’s Siamese Dream and 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness), only Corgan remains. But when this enigmatic and often brilliant writer places his name to a solo album, as he did on 2005’s TheFutureEmbrace, few people care. Make it a Smashing Pumpkins release, however, and the power of band as brand kicks into gear.
Corgan himself is unusually candid when he says, “I know I wrote more great songs by the pound in the years 1992 to 1997 than I have in the past five years,” but he is also correct when he observes that “that doesn’t mean that I still can’t write a great song.” On Oceania, he has written a number of great songs. On a first listen, though, this is not immediately apparent. Of late, The Smashing Pumpkins have not been a band to emphasise their more accessible elements, preferring instead to test the listener’s commitment with layers of electronics and melodies carried only by Corgan’s deliberately fragile and nasal voice...full text
SputnikmusicWhat’s in a name? Depends who you ask. Since Corgan revived the Smashing Pumpkins in 2006 a lot of words have gone back and forth between fans over whether or not this qualifies as the real SP. It’s certainly been no secret that even with James Iha, Darcy Wretsky and Jimmy Chamberlain filling the roles in the ‘classic’ line-up SP has been Corgan’s baby. Even going back as far as 1993’s Siamese Dream, there were stories of Corgan taking control of all musical matters (whether it be through necessity or otherwise) and even reports of him pushing band members out of chairs in order to record parts. You could argue that the aforementioned three were hired hands, much like the situation SP find themselves in today. Is it any coincidence that this album shares a name with Orwell’s totalitarian nation-state from Nineteen Eighty-Four? Probably, but it’s a fun theory to espouse upon anyway.
Since 2006, we’ve had the much-maligned and patchy Zeitgeist as well as the sprawling and just a tad confused Teargarden By Kaleidyscope series. Corgan’s usual prolific output was there, but the quality was lacking. It gave rise to the notions put forth by naysayers that Corgan had lost it, ruining his legacy in the process.
Really, it’s a shame that Oceania is not the first comeback record, because it’s a fine collection of music that both anchors itself in that classic Pumpkins sound whilst managing to deploy a number of new tricks. Opener “Quasar” is a rambunctious, wailing beast of a song with a number of different speeds and moods. Following immediately after is “Panopticon”, a song in a similar vein to its predecessor; waves of guitar backed by Mike Byrne’s tight drumming and Corgan’s trademark (for better or worse) voice singing about suns and moons and Lord knows what else.
What sets Oceania apart from its reformation predecessors is its strong production. Whereas Zeitgeist was a brash and messy guitar-driven record that stalled as a result of questionable mixing, the new record is a cleaner, more clinical effort. Each musician is given the necessary time and space to utilise and make known their talents, in turn contributing to a more complete and beneficial set of song structures. For instance, Nicole Fiorentino’s bass playing comes to the fore on tracks like “The Celestials” and “Pale Horse”, flitting between a reedier, harmonious sound to a deep, rounded rumble at will. The guitar playing follows a similar course, and we are given a demonstration of just how versatile both Corgan and fellow guitarist Jeff Schroeder are. From the classic rock-style harmonising of “The Chimera”, the adventurous solos on “Inkless” and to the myriad methods of playing on the album’s eponymous centrepiece track, the record is a boon those who enjoy well-crafted guitar work. Mike Byrne is an excellent successor to the throne once so ably occupied by Chamberlain. Provided that Byrne, at only 22 years of age, stays in the group, then he can only get even better from here on out....full text
SuntimesAdapt to the new, sure. But when in doubt, stick to what you know best.
Starting late in 2009, Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins molded the distribution plan of their new music to the emerging habits of the web and its hit-or-miss consumption patterns. With an ambitious, 44-track song cycle in mind, called "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope," the band dropped a dozen songs a few at a time, like digital mini-EPs.
By last fall, however, Corgan lamented the effort, saying it was "a tremendous amount of energy to put out to just feel like you're throwing a pebble in the ocean."
"I reached a point where I saw that the one-song-at-a-time idea had maxed itself out," he said. "I just saw we weren't getting the penetration in to everybody that I would have hoped. I mean, we have 1.3 million followers on our Facebook page, right? So you think you put [a song] up and 1.3 million people are gonna see it -- but only if they're looking at the exact moment it goes up."
He added: "I just saw that we weren't reaching the sort of casual person who still gets their information from traditional sources. So I thought, 'What do I need to do?' and then I thought, 'OK, I'll go back to making an album.'"
The result is "Oceania," the next 13 songs in the "Teargarden" cycle but released in one batch like a traditional album. For once, believe the advance buzz about it -- this is easily one of the best albums of the band's entire career.
That phrase deserves qualification. The "entire career" of this band has included a few different bands. The name Smashing Pumpkins was splotched onto the map in the early '90s by Corgan's original, crazy-talented mates (James Iha, D'Arcy Wretzky, Jimmy Chamberlin). By the turn of the century, players began coming and going, not always amicably. The current lineup -- guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne -- solidified in 2010, while some critics (myself included, regrettably) still bemoaned Corgan's stubborn, Pretenders-like continuation of the name. But the current quartet truly gels on "Oceania," emerging as a solid, collective force for the first time.
Due Tuesday but streaming this week on iTunes, this album within an album revives Corgan's gutter-epic vision with a clarity and ferocity not seen since 1995's "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness."
The hurricane squall of "Quasar" opens the set, with Corgan and Schroeder wielding an almost Television-like two-guitar attack and revving things up with a prayerful call to action: "God, ride on! Krishna, ride on!" There's more, brother: "Mom, ride on! Yod, He, Vau, let's ride on!" As the drums thunder and the guitars grind, grind, grind, Corgan's slap-back chants intone, "Yes, I understand / Yes, I know thy will / Yes, I am a man." Earthy Deep Purple, meet heavenly Kula Shaker....full text
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