This album, the first Smashing Pumpkins release since 2007, has gotten more advance buzz than any album Corgan has made since "Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness" 17 years ago. Even Corgan himself has described it as his best since that time. The initial reviews have been ecstatic; almost every critic has given it four or five stars and some have dared to call it the best rock album of the past ten years. I had initially heard four of its songs on live youtube clips from their Oct tour of the US, and been pleasantly surprised--Corgan really *did* seem to have got his mojo back, and the new lineup actually gelled as an honest-to-goodness *band*. I eagerly awaited today's release date for the album, to see if the rest of it was really going to match up to the high expectations.
For the most part, the answer is a definitive YES. This is truly one of the best rock albums I've heard in a long time and the finest thing Corgan has made since "Adore" (my favorite Smashing Pumpkins album). "Oceania" is a mix of old-school Siamese-era Pumpkins with some modern production touches and a happier overall tone (Corgan, so famous for his angst in the 90s, seems to have really mellowed in his lyrics). Here's the track-by-track rundown:
Quasar--the opening is deliberately reminiscent of "Cherub Rock", but this barnstormer definitely stands on its own. It's big, bold, complex, cinematic and rocking, all the things which made The Pumpkins so great in their heyday. It practically screams that the group are back in a *big* way. The best rocker since the "Mellon Collie" era.
Panopticon--as if to prove "Quasar" wasn't a fluke, this song rocks right out the gate and doesn't let go. The riff and melody is ridiculously addictive.
The Celestials--a joyful acoustic number that switches to soaring rock anthem midway through. Three for three...this is looking very promising!
Violet Rays--many people's favorite on the album. This diverges from the traditional Pumpkins sound with some interesting synth work, which evolves into a very touching and atmospheric piece. It is a highlight--we're now four for four.
My Love Is Winter--not the greatest lyrics he's ever written but displaying the same melodicism, and performed with the same spirit, as the first four tracks.
One Diamond, One Heart--this is the first real dud, IMO. The lyrics are atrocious, and the music reminds me of the retro-80s disaster that was Corgan's 2005 solo album "The Future Embrace". Just when things are looking down, however...
Pinwheels--a fascinating electronic opening that moves through several enticing sections before ending up as a delicious folk-harmony piece with excellent vocal layering between Corgan and bassist Nicole Fiorentino (if anything, he could have used her vocals more on the record).
Oceania--the epic, proggy title track moves through three distinct sections, all mind-blowing. Although this studio version misses some of the extended instrumental interplay on the youtube live clips, there's no denying this is a total highlight of the album.
Pale Horse--not my favorite, the melody kind of drags and seems more reminiscent of Corgan's more recent material. Not awful, but I don't know how much play it's going to get from me.
The Chimera--outstanding rocker, nearly as good as "Quasar", with a series of ever-morphing guitar riffs that really impresses. One of my favorites.
Glissandra--another monster cut that rocks, but with all the beauty and care that was found on the classic Pumpkins albums of yore. Oustanding old-school Pumpkins guitar work here.
Inkless--a lesser track; it doesn't quite rise to the heights of the two before it, although it's cut from the same cloth. Still, even this slightly weaker track is better than anything Corgan has done in ten years.
Wildflower--an epic ballad with an absolutely gorgeous chord progression and a sumptuous production ethic. Just as the album opened with a drum march reminiscent of "Cherub Rock", so it closes with the lilting late 60s art-rock grace of "Luna". This is anything but a clone, however--it takes from the feel of the early Pumpkins sound but stands completely on its own.
Overall, there's only two songs I really didn't care for--"One Diamond One Heart" and "Pale Horse", and most of the rest was stunning. I'm really impressed by the new lineup--Chamberlin is an extremely hard act to follow but Mike Byrne fills his shoes quite convincingly, while second guitarist Jeff Schroeder has clearly done his homework. Bassist Fiorentino is also an asset, with just as much of a unique personality as D'arcy, coupled with better musicianship. The whole band jams and gels really well together, giving the album an organic feel; I am a hardcore fan of the original lineup and am almost predisposed to dislike any new members on sight, but these guys have won me over. Most importantly, "Oceania" feels like a real *moment*, a focused statement of purpose that is the return of something badly missed. When a genius like Billy Corgan returns from over a decade lost in the wilderness, it is true cause for celebration.
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