The Smashing Pumpkins
SCQ Rating: 75%
In the uncertain summer between grade school and junior high, Siamese Dream became the first full-length I ever loved. From Side A through Side B and then back again, that cassette spawned an obsessive adoration in me that, almost twenty years later, feels naturally spread out across a few dozen bands that Skeleton Crew Quarterly faithfully covers. But in the mid 1990s, the Smashing Pumpkins were music – I didn’t care to know what else was out there – and they delivered on a seemingly biweekly basis. From Pisces Iscariot to Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness and then almost two years of singles loaded with quality B-sides, it was a fruitful time to follow Billy Corgan and Co.
So yes, I was one of those eager people hoping Oceania would turn the page on Corgan’s past-wrestling missives but my interest had less to do with warm nostalgia than it did with hearing a real, full-blooded rock album again. 2012 has failed to produce even a handful, making the timing of Corgan’s best album in a decade feel substantial on a wider critical plane. “Quasar” may open the disc sounding like a sludgier take on “Cherub Rock” but it feels vital nonetheless as the vast majority of Oceania embraces a unique sonic terrain permeated by classic-rock touches. Riff-heavy tracks like “Panopticon”, “Inkless” and “The Celestials” breathe convincing life into Alternative Rock’s dated framework, with dense layers of guitar and big choruses reigning. These examples are enough to regress the popular notion that Billy Corgan can’t write songs for the current age, but they merely hint at Oceania’s progressive edge. “One Diamond, One Heart” swings by the momentum of a bubbling keyboard coda while the title track undergoes a multi-song suite of acoustic balladry, warped synths and detailed percussion. The career-low shrieking of 2007’s Zeitgeist certainly didn’t have a “Pale Horse” or “Wildflower”, subdued songs drenched in relaxed yearning.
Taking into consideration the band’s underdog status since reforming (repeatedly) and becoming the counterpoint to independent music’s hipster trajectory, Oceania is a significant achievement. Not unlike other Pumpkins’ albums, it occasionally outstretches its means – letting a decent track like “Glissandra” fall between the cracks – but engages consistently enough to compete with whatever diluted shoegaze/electro band is making waves this week. Will Oceania ultimately change much beyond the Pumpkin universe? Probably not, but at the very least, it reinforces that Pumpkinland is fully operational and looking boldly toward the future.