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Smashing Pumpkins ‘Oceania’ – Brightly optimistic and reminiscent of early years

Billy Corgan is back! But I shouldn’t add “… with his band of misfits” cos that only applies to Axl Rose, right? Anyway, here’s a little bit of back-story. In 2007 he suddenly decided to bring the old band back together, but funnily enough he did not inform them. So, only drummer Jimmy Chamberlin came back. Nonetheless, the duo charged ahead with an album titled ‘Zeitgeist’ which tried very hard to bring back the rawkk of olden times. It didn’t quite succeed and aside from a few bright spots, the whole thing sounded like a formless mush of modern hard rock. The dream pop element that I loved so much was missing.

Coming back to 2012, Billy has recruited all new band members: guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne and set out on an ambitious 44-song set called ‘Teargarden by Kaleidyscope’ of which this first one ‘Oceania’ is just a part. Phew!! .. But bombast and delusions of grandeur are nothing new to Billy. Their most popular (double) album ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ could almost be compared to a sprawling art exhibition on a grand scale. Sure, there were fillers in there but I respected his vision for experimentation and art rock a la Pink Floyd. Those otherworldly qualities are thankfully back now.

‘Oceania’ is a bright and optimistic sounding tribute to their classic blend of heavy metal and dreamy psychedelia that they used to do so well! Right from the first track ‘Quasar’ it is evident that the old Pumpkins sound is back. The song is a delicious mix of crashing drums, distorted guitar and 60’s psychedelia. Mentions of Krishna and Om, plus an opening that sounds like a modern day version of ‘Cherub Rock’ only seal the suspicion that this is a celebration of everything ‘Gish’ and ‘Siamese Dream’. After that burst of energy, they deliver a second punch of delight with ‘Panopticon’ which does take a little bit more time to seep into you. Then come the strings of ‘The Celestials’, a lovely ballad which rocks almost as hard as it flows beautifully to end on a sustained solitary distorted note. As the album ambles along, there are many interesting sounds in tracks like ‘Violet Rays’, ‘My Love Is Winter’ and ‘One Diamond, One Heart’. When we get to ‘Pinwheels’ we are immediately hit with a gorgeously sunshiny opening that lasts for a good two whole minutes followed by soft acoustic guitar. Great stuff this!

Next comes the epic title track which is like the Pumpkins’ version of ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ I guess. Took a while to grow on me but I really dig the prog rock tendencies of this song now. Halfway through, Billy stops singing suddenly and the song fades into a dreamy soundscape of distant drums and crazy guitar solos. After that comes the wonderfully chilled out ‘Pale Horse’. One of my favourites on this album, it is easy to get into and completely relaxes the listener. This whole album is just so happy-sounding… I love it! And none of it is cheesy. That’s the best part! As we approach the last stretch of the album, there are some tight rocking songs like ‘The Chimera’, ‘Glissandra’ and ‘Inkless’ which are quite enjoyable musically. These take longer to get used to though, than anything on the first half. Finally, the closer ‘Wildflower’ is okay. Didn’t like it all that much at first but now I can appreciate the music here, although Billy’s singing drones on a bit – a quality in his singing style I was never that big a fan of.

Nevertheless, colour me surprised! After their several tumultuous years as a changing band, I did not really expect or hope for an album as sunny and glowing as this one. Looking at their discography as a whole, nothing will probably top moments like the last 2 minutes of ‘Hummer’, the skipping sighing beat of ‘1979’ or the entirety of ‘Mayonaise’ but I can confidently say that ‘Oceania’ is one of their best efforts that I have ever listened to.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Work commute album of the day: Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream

Featuring seamless transitions from hard rock to psychedelic dream pop and shoegaze to progressive, I really think this was the Pumpkins at their absolute creative peak. 1991’s ‘Gish’ was not quite there yet (although good in it’s own right) and 1995’s ‘Mellon Collie…’ felt too vast, containing good songs interspersed with fillers. This album though, is just perfect from start to finish. It is such a pleasure to listen to every now and then, even now in 2012. Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming is nothing short of stellar in songs such as Cherub Rock, Quiet, Geek USA and Silverfuck. Maybe the drugs helped. lol. Maybe not. Though I’m not particularly a fan of the lyrics here or Billy Corgan’s voice, everything comes together beautifully to create that fantastic wall of noise. And I just love those moments like during the last couple of minutes of the song Hummer when the guitars quiet down to reveal the most exquisitely gorgeous acoustic solo. That is the kind of stuff that I seriously missed on their comeback-of-sorts album ‘Zeitgeist’. What the heck happened to all the shoegaze inspirations??? Speaking of which, I wouldn’t mind exploring that genre a little more. All I know about it is MBV’s Loveless which frankly I could not get into for the life of me! (Please don’t hate me.) And I believe ‘She’s So High’ by Blur was also shoegaze-inspired. I love that track. Anyway, Siamese Dream… great album and possibly one of my all-time favourites ever. Perfect for a boring, slow work commute. 🙂