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Music Review: The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

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The Smashing Pumpkins’ seventh “official” studio full-length, Oceania, is an “album within an album,” as it has been placed in the middle of the band’s ongoing 44-song long Teargarden by Kaleidyscope concept album project that started in 2009.

After a tepid response to the one-song-at-a-time approach of this ambitious album project and the death of good friend and collaborator Mark Tulin (of the legendary psychedelic group Electric Prunes) in early 2011, head Pumpkin Billy Corgan got inspired to commit himself and his bandmates to making a proper album once again. After a year’s worth of writing and recording in Arizona and his home state of Illinois (between 2010 and 2011), it was just a matter of time before the highly anticipated album was finally released after having been initially slated for an early September 2011 date. That day finally arrived on June 19.

Corgan, ace guitarist Jeff Schroeder, and drummer Mike Byrne waste no time getting aggressive on the first two (Drop-D-tuned) rock jams, “Quasar” and “Panopticon.” The numerous solo flourishes and slight delay effect-aided electric guitars make the former track stand out, along with some spiritual lyrics like “Yod He Va Hey Om,” which could’ve been influenced by Corgan’s time spent with psychedelic rock pals Ya Ho Wah 13 about four years ago. The latter track features more radio-friendly choruses, and highly musical bass lines, courtesy of Nicole Fiorentino (ex-Veruca Salt, Light FM).

Nicole Fiorentino and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins

The cool, summery vintage synths of “Violet Rays” recall Yes, but with its theme of loneliness and distorted ballad-like guitar strums, it all makes for a rather new sound for the band. Similarly, the synths and strings of “One Diamond, One Heart” show this to be the happier cousin of “Violet Rays.” But when first listening to “One’s” opening beats, one might recall the Adore era, and the start of that album’s soft rocking storytelling gem, “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” in particular.

Aside from the pleasantly heavy “The Chimera,” which has traces of “Frail & Bedazzled” from 1994′s Pisces Iscariot (one of the greatest compilation albums of all time), and the aforementioned first two cuts, other tracks that can be construed as rockers include “My Love Is Winter” and “Glissandra.” “My Love” is a real treat and is a much improved version than the live version from a few years back; it’s longer and really allows Schroeder to shine and wail away.

The true winner of the album is the nearly 10-minute, three-part title track, which sees the subject trying to redeem his love. It starts with almost gothic, lonely synths and melodic ’80s-like sounds when the full band comes in. Then the heartaching breakdown that constitutes part two (the “Try the way on me” part), and the high-end guitar riffs near the end of part three make for one of the most memorable long jams Corgan has written since “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” from Mellon Collie.

Speaking of ’80s vibes, the opening guitar riffs to the bright, electronic sounds-aided “Pinwheels” evoke New Order, and the beat to “Pale Horse” could easily be tracked back to that decade as well. At the same time, these songs (and the title track) don’t sound like ’80s songs for long. Perhaps that has something to do with Bjorn Thorsrud (Monster Magnet, Bruce Dickinson, Dandy Warhols), who has worked on every single official SP release going back to 1998′s underrated Adore record. He and Corgan co-produced the new full-length, and made sure to make its overall sound live in the present, with loud, roaring guitars where they need to be, and quieter textures (vintage synths or other sounds) mixed in to give it depth and balance.

About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA). See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • gg

    Jeff did not play on Zeitgeist.

  • charlie

    I know that and can’t believe I wrote “album” in there (lol) – I thought I wrote “…holdover from the Zeitgeist era.” I was thinking the 2007 Zeitgeist tour. Oh well. It’s corrected now, thanks.

  • S�ren

    Violet Rays is the most fantastic song i ever heard.. I absolutely love it! :)