Things have been looking up for Smashing Pumpkins fans for a little while now, with encouraging new releases coming out through the Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project, and the great news is that new album Oceania builds on that promise. In doing so it delivers the best Pumpkins release since Adore.
When Billy Corgan first revived the band with the dour and plodding Zeitgeist, it seemed like the glory days were over, particularly with so few other ‘classic’ band members on-board. Now he’s the only one left, but if anything that seems to be working in his favour. As evidenced in last year’s impressive shows, his young bandmates seem to have got his creative juices flowing, and talk of this being a more collaborative project backs up that theory.
Where Zeitgeist was too unadventruous for the band who released Mellon Collie, Oceania sees them take their prog rock influences and run wild with them, especially on tracks like Violet Rays and Pinwheels. And if that description scares you, don’t worry , it all still sounds like no-one other than the Pumpkins could sound, but don’t say that proggy front cover artwork didn’t warn you. Also perhaps working in Corgan’s favour has been revisiting early albums like Gish and Siamese Dream for deluxe reissues, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first to have been inspired by such projects to return to making the kind of music his fans hope for…
There’s no doubt that Oceania is much more along those lines than anything the Pumpkins have released in a long time, blending the heavy guitars with dreamy melodies that were so noticeably absent last time out. There’s little of the electronic music of Adore or Machina, but the overall feel of songs like the beautiful Pale Horse shows that Corgan hasn’t abandoned that side of his musical persona. He still throws a curveball with opening track Quasar, a straight-on guitar rock track that would have fit perfectly on Zeitgeist, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, I’m still glad it wasn’t followed by 12 identical-sounding songs.
The clear highlight here is My Love Is Winter, one of the tracks that was previewed on last year’s tour and one that stood out then. It’s very much a classic-sounding Pumpkins single, and while the world might have moved on in a way that means it’s got no chance of replicating the successes of those old hits, it shows that he’s still got it in him to write them. By contrast, the title track sees him taking things in the opposite direction, nine minutes of meandering sounds driven on by Mike Byrne‘s incessant and powerful drumming (assuming it’s him on the drums, rather than Corgan himself, which is always a big assumption) and somehow it all pulls together into a much better song than it seemed when heard live for the first time.
I’ve already mentioned Pale Horse and Pinwheels, two other songs that impressed on tour, and both sound even better on Oceania, while rockers like The Chimera and softer songs like The Celestials and One Diamond, One Heart show that balance and diversity of sound that makes this such a satisfying return to form. You can never tell where someone like Billy Corgan is going to go next, and making an album a few years after saying he wouldn’t do it anymore is fairly typical, but in my opinion it’s a positive step. Drip-feeding tracks through the Teargarden project is still a disjointed way of releasing new music, and while a lot of good stuff has come out of it, the focus of crafting Oceania as an album in the middle of it has definitely paid off. And so has the patience of Smashing Pumpkins fans like me, because this time, they really are back.