Review: The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
Published on June 27th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
With each public utterance Billy Corgan becomes ever more urgent a case study in separating the man from the music, so rather than dwelling on the former bone of contention let’s be getting on with the latter.
Basically, the first couple of tracks of The Smashing Pumpkins’ ninth studio album Oceania echo the kind of stodgy noise that made 2007’s Zeitgeist so wearying, and the rest of it largely recalls the forays into twinkly psych-lite that have made Teargarden by Kaleidyscope at the very least intriguing. However, the former – namely “Quasar” and “Panopticon”, with their grungy guitar swamps and harmonised lead parts – err away from the dull ache of Zeitgeist and towards dreamier terrain, while the latter takes similarly bold leaps into moments of genuine splendour.
(Point of order: we realise that this review has deployed a former/latter construction in each of its opening paragraphs. On the former occasion we didn’t foresee this happening, so we shall pass off the latter as knowing wryness.)
Third track “The Celestials” heralds the shift into the, well, celestial, but it’s not until sixth track “One Diamond, One Heart” that the kind of beauty we came to know on songs like “Tonight, Tonight” – maybe it’s a comma thing? – starts bleeding through. The ensuing “Pinwheels” oversees acoustic loveliness suddenly bursting into a heavenly marriage of synth arpeggios and gentle female backing vocals that at this juncture represents Oceania‘s most satisfying listen so far, while the epic title track justifies its nine-minute running time by stepping up into an electronically decorated rumination with a big, chiming guitar solo that shines with a simplicity that was lacking before.
Unable to help itself, it then throws in a more complex, showy solo, but then proceeds to staple it to its simpler predecessor, the result of which sounds bloody splendid.
“The Chimera” (how has there not been a Smashing Pumpkins song with that title already?) reverts to decent-enough rumbling noise-pop, but the glowing toy keyboard breakdown of “Glissandra”, ace guitar nebula of “Inkless” and shimmering gorgeousness of closer “Wildflower” lead the album off on a pretty lovely note.
Lyrically, Oceania sees Corgan go from eulogising Krishna on “Quasar” to borderline-overwrought poeticisms such as “Oh, don’t make me suffer / To dash debonair / What chased is the wish / Embossed with pain / A heart goes blank” (“Panopticon”) and “Spells fall frail / Webs catching sail / In eternal eternities / Divine purpose catching free” (“Violet Rays”), but there are enough moments of heartfelt conciseness – such as “When they lit me up, you shut me out… Please come back” (“Pale Horse”) and “It takes some time to find a trust apart / Whistle past the lane, lover” (“The Chimera”) to just about forgive his next ill-advised interview response. Dare we say that Smashing Pumpkins would be better served smiling politely these days?
All in all, Oceania is bound to attract pelters, not least from those enraged by Corgan’s unchecked autocracy as the only remaining original member of Smashing Pumpkins…but, you know, it’s not bad. I mean, it’s about as playful as a depressed shark that’s just felt a bird shit on its head, but it’s still pretty good.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
Oceania is out now on Virgin. For more information, please visit www.smashingpumpkins.com