July 30, 2012
I should preface this article by stating that fans dead-set on seeing the return of James Iha and D’arcy will have to keep on hoping for an official (original) Smashing Pumpkins reunion as the line-up for Oceania features Jeff Schroeder (who has previously toured with the Pumpkins) on guitar, Mike Byrne on drums, and 2010 addition to the band, Nicole Fiorentino, on bass. With that said, hardcore Pumpkins fans should not despair. With the exception of a few songs, this album is loaded with tracks that are sure to please even the most steadfast purist.
Oceania is the 7th studio album from the Smashing Pumpkins and was released as an “album within an album,” since this record is part of their larger 44-song movement toward the “concept album” entitled Teagarden by Kaleidyscope. While this album is not as lyrically-oriented as the musical masterpiece, the 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it does succeed in returning fans back to the classic Pumpkins sound. Moreover, any listener cannot help but notice just how many references to love the Pumpkins have placed within this album. Oceania is, at times, stripped down and focused, and, at other times, electronic and heavily mixed; but, it is always, always, centered around the theme of love.
All is Full of Love
The album’s opening song “Quasar” holds the raw power and force that any opener should possess, and it directs listeners back to the energy of “Cherub Rock,” the fuzzy smash from the band’s 1993 album Siamese Dream. With heavy drum beats and a swirling guitar exit, Corgan asks his listeners, “Please allow me to say hello to you.” This song does more than just “say hello;” It pulls the audience into the album and leaves us hopeful and excited. Corgan sings, “Lover, lover stay with me” and, as lovers of Corgan, we all comply.
“The Celestials” is a standout, feel-good track. This song reminds me why I love the Pumpkins so much in the first place. Lyrically reminiscent of ballads like “Beautiful” and “Thirty-Three,” Corgan sings, “I’m gonna love you till this ends.” Absent of heavy-handed electrical guitar chords, the Pumpkins instead opt for catchy acoustic riffs for most of this song.
The track “Violet Rays” opens with an eerie, electronic intro (not as heavily electronic as songs like “Ava Adore” or “Eye,” but still essentially electronic), which fools the listener into thinking this song won’t be particularly pleasing. Don’t be fooled. This song is moving and vulnerable with lyrics such as, “In magic no heart’s lost” and “I’ll kiss anyone tonight / Am I the only one you see?”
Although many tracks successfully introduce the concept of love in standard Pumpkins style, tracks like “My Love is Winter” which proclaims, “There is love enough / for the both of us” and the upbeat and rather pop-py “One Diamond, One Heart,” which contains the lyric, “Love will light the way,” seem a bit too optimistic for me and after listening to them several times over, I chose to skip over these tracks in favor of better listening. For the record, also on my list of “skips” is “Wildflower,” the closing track. My main gripe with this song is not that it sounds too whiny (you can almost expect as much with a voice like Corgan’s), but that it does not leave the listener with a solid ending. As a finale, this song should be more definitive and solid – more like what we saw on tracks like “Farewell and Goodnight” in Mellon Collie. However, the song just fades out. Perhaps this is not meant to be an ending, however, since we must remember that this album is part of a larger artistic framework.
The standout track on this album is definitely the title track “Oceania.” Following the classic tradition of naming your album after the strongest song on the record, this song surely has everything a title track should possess – solid lyrics, strong vocals, and stunning musical arrangements, which are broken up into three phases. Phase 1 of the track showcases the classic Pumpkins sound. Phase 2 is an abrupt interruption to the previous melodies and distinctly separate from Phase 1. It is acoustic, stripped-down, and unplugged. Phase 3 seems to be largely a combination of Phase 1 and 2, with heaver drum beats. This nearly epic song weighs-in at 9 minutes and 6 seconds. To give you a feel for how this song sounds, one listener described this track as simply “trippy.”
There are some tracks on this album, which seem largely familiar. The song “Pale Horse” sounds eerily reminiscent of several tracks off of the 2000 album Bloodflowers by The Cure. True Cure fans will note the similarity in melodic arrangements, in conjunction with the downtrodden feel that is evident throughout the track.
“The Chimera” is definitely old-school Pumpkins and is sure to bring back fond memories of Gish and Siamese Dream. “Glissandra,” on the other hand, sounds strangely similar to “That’s the Way (My Love is)” off of Zeitgeist. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good track – just a little too familiar.
Overall, I feel that for those fans who were disappointed with Zeitgeist, all will find refuge in Oceania. Even better is the fact that on their official webpage, you can not only listen to the whole album for free (Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania), but you can also insert your comments and reactions to each song onto the site as you watch each track progress on your computer screen.