There was a time when one could argue that The Smashing Pumpkins were the biggest band in the world. In the mid-1990’s, after the loss of Kurt Cobain and before Radiohead’s OK Computer and the resurgence of U2, there was Billy Corgan’s shaved head, lanky body and iconic ‘Zero’ shirt representing a generation. But by the late-90’s, and for the first decade of this millennium, The Smashing Pumpkins became a revolving door of members, even officially breaking-up and reuniting (albeit with a new band) in 2005. The band’s output during this period can be best described as disjointed, self-indulgent and more of a Billy Corgan solo endeavour than a true band experience.
In 2009, Corgan announced that The Pumpkins would release Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, a 44-track concept album, one track at a time over the internet. After releasing a few tracks online, The Pumpkins announced the release of Oceania, a self-described album-within-an-album, out today. I haven’t really been following this whole 44-track release, but regardless of how Oceania fits in to the bigger picture of what Corgan is up to, it’s a solid new release.
Firstly, The Smashing Pumpkins are a band again. New members Mike Byrne (drums), Nicole Fiorentino (bass) and Jeff Schroeder (guitar) complement Corgan’s blazing guitar riffs and piercing vocals and were instrumental in the writing and production of the album. Their contributions seem to have revitalized Corgan who, despite saying that if this album doesn’t sell The Pumpkins are done, sounds recommitted to being in a band and making it work. Oceania is probably the tightest Pumpkins album since 1993’s Siamese Dream with 13 tracks clocking in at just under an hour. If you take away the 9-minute title track, you could almost call Oceania a prog-pop album.
If you were a fan of The Pumpkins between 1991 and 1996, you’re going to love this album. The interplay between the guitars and drums is back, and there’s just enough melody in Corgan’s angst-ridden lyrics about love lost to make these tracks as memorable as “Today”, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “1979”. Must Have Track: Album opener “Quasar” is excellent as is the very “Tonight, Tonight” sounding “Violet Rays”.