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Music Review: Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

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The Smashing Pumpkins have a new album out (Oceania, their seventh studio release). I love the Pumpkins, and I love Billy Corgan. They were a very big part of my life when I was younger.  Then, it got weird. They broke up in 2000 and since reforming in 2006, have had quite a few lineup changes.

Pearl Jam never broke up and are still together with most of their original lineup, always make great music, and still tour and kill every time, with no drama. This is what I wanted the Pumpkins to be, but I am sure that is what Billy thought, too.

So, smash cut to the present. After Billy declared the album “dead” a few years back, he came back and made this new one as part of the band’s ambitious, ongoing 44-song Teargarden By Kaleidyscope album project—an album within an album.

So, do I need another Pumpkins record? I am 40 and not sure I have any angst left. Wait, Billy is 45. So, odds are Billy doesn’t have any teen angst, either. Can the Pumpkins make a 5-star record? Can any of my teen year bands do it? Pearl Jam’s self titled release is amazing, and just a few years old. That is 5-star material, and Billy is a better songwriter than Eddie Vedder. Vedder is just more likeable, on every level.

So, I picked up the album the other day and listened to it on my long drive home. It’s really good and sounds like the Pumpkins, and not just Billy and a backing band. He is locked in with these guys, and his new drummer (Mike Byrne) is almost as good as Jimmy Chamberlin was. Of course, no one could be as good as Jimmy. He was fucking amazing and am sure he still is, wherever he went. That man is a drum god. Think Neil Peart and Danny Carey of Tool. Those three are the triumvirate of bad ass drumming.

Guess I should get back to the album, eh? I am not going to go into it track by track, as I was driving, so I wasn’t looking at the track names. I listened to it in sequence though, which I think it important on this one. The songs flow together very well and are great, and the overall sound is excellent. The only minus musically, and it is a big one, are the keyboards. They are in almost every song, and much of them sound terrible.

A perfect example of this is “Violet Rays.” This has a beautiful, haunting melody. However, the almost minute-long synth intro forced me to skip the song the first few times. Turns out there is a powerful song in there.

It becomes a distraction. I think a piano would have sounded beautiful. But, the keyboards sound to me like they were played on a Casio. Seriously.  Other than that, it is a very solid album with awesome bombastic rock, and some beautiful meandering pieces that remind you of the best stuff from Mellon Collie….

If you Google Billy or search him on YouTube, you will find at least as many interviews where he puts his foot in his mouth as you will musical performances. Most recently, he said Radiohead is overrated due to the “pomposity” and “value system” that says they’re more valuable in the music world than Deep Purple. Skip those, and watch any performance where he has an acoustic guitar in his hands, such as this amazing track from several years back called “99 Floors”. It is the best thing I have heard the Pumpkins do in 15 years, yet I don’t believe it has been released outside of a bizarre If All Goes Wrong documentary/concert DVD release from a few years ago. You can still find this sweetness and sheer Pumpkin-ness, however, on Oceania’s “The Celestials.”

The Smashing Pumpkins are back. Billy and company can still make amusing music, for sure. Should you buy Oceania? Yes, if you are a Pumpkins fan. No, if you are not.

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  • Adam Android

    Just wanted to let you know that this terrible “casio” keyboard sound your hearing are some of the most sought after vintage synths with in my opinion beautiful warmth and tone..(There is footage of billy trying to find unique tones and patterns with an engineer on a particular vintage synth larger than an upright piano that resembles the plug and patch rooms telephone operators used to use) anyways a lot of the tones he’s using would make many synth lovers drool. Maybe cuz its different than what your used to you don’t like it? I think it adds an awesome psychedelic atmosphere that the pumpkins haven’t dabbled with too much but what I appreciate about it is that those tones have become very popular in a lot of alternative/indie/dubstub stuff that people are listening to today only Billys approach on it is using vintage analog and actually playing or creating most of it rather then the popular alternative of programmed and digital synth…just something to think about next time you listen maybe it will grow on you? And as far as the whole angst thing goes and the albums of the past don’t even think about that stuff! soak it in as if you’d never heard it before! If artist stayed the same you’d hate it even more! Because then its apparent they are only making music based upon what people want and probably just to sell records..I think Oceania is unique and beautiful unto itself and though Billy may be happier these days this album is full of some very desperately sad themes.