Released: Monday 18 June 2012
Ever since I saw Billy Corgan on VH1's 2000 Storytellers talking about his experiences, inspiration and memories about writing the1996 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I came to understand what a master musician he actually was, and still is. As journalist Greg Kot wrote: "The music [of The Smashing Pumpkins] would not be what it is without his ambition and vision, and his famously fractured relationships with his family, friends, and band-members."
In this intimate live setting he went on to describe the meaning behind 'Thirty-Three' and how a tarot card reader had told him at 27 how hugely significant his 33rd year would be, one with with life-altering impact, and indeed it was. Talking about the context of the song 'Thirty-Three', he describes how, at 27, he had just gotten married, moved into a new house, the band was acheiving major success: "I was really hopeful with the idea that I was eventually and someday - and it looked like it was going to happen - actually have a happy life.... It didn't quite work out that way.... You know, hope is really the key component in life because one must have hope and faith to actually get out of bed and do anything in this world... So, this song serves both as prophecy and, um, sort of a hope/unhoped or unwished, maybe that's better. So this is 'Thirty-Three'."
The direction of the band is dominated by, Corgan, its sole permanent member, who is the principal songwriter, lead singer, and sonic architect behind the group's recordings. Corgan has justified his continued use of the name, minus the other original members, by stressing that: "For whatever reason, the Smashing Pumpkins, the idea of the band or the spirit of the band, has always pushed me to force myself out of my comfort zone." Similar to the set up of Nine Inch Nails, Corgan's announcement that he would be keeping the Smashing Pumpkins name and starting a new band was not too shocking.
The band had been Corgan's vision, after all, the other members mere puppet dolls under the Corgan corporation, but it does work. When a singular vision is as strong as Corgan's, it is the only way the music can be produced, and to hell with everyone else. The band name was even a boyhood dream of Corgan's, before the idea for the band was even properly envisioned, hence its cute, childish name.
Oceania is the first Pumpkins album in more than five years, with a new tour-proof band including Mike Byrne, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and guitarist Jeff Schroeder. It's is the ninth studio album by Corgan and is part of the band's ongoing 44-song concept album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Corgan's music can only be epic or nothing at all. Oceania was made available with no advance copies or radio singles. Many critics have hailed the Pumpkins' latest work as a return to their mid-90s greatness, with heavy comparisons being drawn against Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Lyrically, Corgan is very much drawn to the spiritual, the notion of having discovered, and created, enlightenment. The sound of Oceania is a vast, epic soundscape, all tightly woven into layers of surging and crashing waves. 'The Celestials' conveys a soft melancholy tone. Oceania certainly subscribes to the Pumpkins signature sound, climbing guitars, with Corgan's voice cutting through the complex arrangements.
Oceania confirms a re-emergence of Corgan's long-held ambitions. The album feels massive; there are electronic sidesteps and folk-rock interventions. Still, glacier-like, melancholy ballads rub up against thumping, dark rock songs. There's a sense of real surprise on many of the songs for, example title track 'Oceania' goes through multiple sections from melodic, bitter guitars to an almost nursery ryhme folk song ending - only Corgan can get away with this. 'Pale Horse' is simply beautifully fragile and poetic, Corgan sings pleadingly "Please come back, please come back", while opening track 'Quasar' reminding us what the Smashing Pumpkins experience is all about with an almost Zed Leppelin feel to it. Corgan's vision for his sound, has ultimately left him to have it all his way, but at a high cost: "I'm alone, so alone, but better than I ever was," he sings, rather sadly on the title track.
Its production, originality and sheer scope make this album a must-listen. There is a depth and emotion which replaces the band's once characteristic angstyness. Corgan describes Oceania as his "do or die" effort, and I'm so glad the Pumpkins haven't faded out. The artistry and musicianship that Corgan has, and manages to find in others, is undeniably unique, reminding us that along with finding true happiness, the deepest melancholia, anger, and unmet desires can also sound hopeful.