I confess, I was never really into The Smashing Pumpkins when I was younger; I missed them by a generation, I suppose, being too young to really find interest in their style. But after listening to their freshly-released Oceania LP—well, it appears that I missed out.
Available as a convenient, free stream online, the ‘album-within-an-album’—an interlude in the making of their forthcoming 44-track epic album—starts off strong. Opening track Quasar surprised me with its layered guitar intro. Its lyrics are effectively simple and repetitive, though the vocal lines are uninteresting in relation to the obvious instrumental complexity of this prog-rock number.
The Celestials however merges The Smashing Pumpkins of the ‘90s with a new, modern dynamic. Corgan’s vocals find a solid place in the mix and the solo guitar riff is a real high note as well. Violet Rays on the other hand offers nothing new; but all elements combined, it makes for an emotional listening experience, perhaps largely due to Corgan’s vocals which come off here as vulnerable and raw.
The group’s sound—or should I say sounds—they’ve developed and owned throughout their career all appear on this album: progressive rock in Quasar, electronica in the background track of One Diamond, One Heart, punk rock in The Chimera and of course, the ultimate sampling of their sounds that composes title-track, Oceania. Oceania features arguably the best pairing of a strong bass line and solid toms on the off-beats along with several breaks in style throughout its nine-minute span.
Big picture, Oceania’s album sequencing doesn’t go anywhere in particular. In Corgan’s defense though, he has explained that the record was meant to be comprised of tracks of equal value—there wasn’t to be any designated “single.” Evaluating the album as a whole based on this intent, there is just one notable shortcoming: Pale Horse is not strong enough to stand alone. Its repetitive and low in energy and when compared to the others to assess its overall value, its weaknesses are apparent. It could easily be slashed and the album wouldn’t be any worse for it, perhaps even be noticeably better.
Speculation aside, Oceania is a strong return from a seasoned band taking solid steps toward their epic release. I’ve been recruited.
— By Erin Torrance, a recent Publishing graduate venturing into the world of music. Erin lives in a flea-market chic apartment in Toronto with the love of her life and best friend — her cat Bea.