If anyone has been concerned that The Smashing Pumpkins’ best days are behind them, their new release Oceania should put those fears to rest for awhile.
Let’s start by saying there are plenty of reasons why The Smashing Pumpkins should not even be a band right now. It’s always a huge risk when a band breaks up after its peak season, then re-forms around only one of its original members (just ask Axl Rose—no wait, don’t bother asking him). Never mind the blights that plagued the early lineup, including romantic feuds, drug addictions, and frontman/songwriter Billy Corgan’s vulnerability to deep melancholia—or the tortured artist/genius persona of Corgan himself, which can make him difficult to work with. At the very least, one might expect a reincarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins to be a veiled shadow of the glory days, with more focus placed on older songs than on newer ones.
Indeed, for the first few years since the band re-formed in 2006, it looked like this was exactly the case. But after the tepid reception of 2007’s Zeitgeist and a long string of relatively forgettable singles released one at a time since 2009 (collectively titled Teagarden by Kaleidyscope), with Oceania, The Smashing Pumpkins have managed to create one of the most significant albums of their existence—at least, their second existence.
With Oceania, the band has brought together old and new to bring a fresh sense of relevance. Many of the elements fans have loved about The Smashing Pumpkins have been brought back, from the intense metal riffs of opening tracks “Quasar” and “Panopticon” to the rich keyboard/electronic layers found in tracks like “One Diamond, One Heart,” to the haunting, acoustic guitar driven ballads like “The Celestials” Back, also, are the lyrical themes of spirituality, love and introspection. What’s new, perhaps, is the overall tone of the record. For a band that has been known for delving into dark places, this record plays a bit more light as a whole. It’s as if Corgan has gone through a long, dark tunnel and has found himself on the other side.
But what truly makes this record, for me at least, are the arrangements and the sense of melody throughout. Corgan is a true artist at orchestrating his songs, and musically, there’s not a dull moment. Perhaps the most poignant for me is the instrumental introduction to “Violet Rays.” Simply stunning.
Is Oceania a master work compared to the epic days of Mellen Collie and the Infinite Sadness? Honestly, no. (It’s gonna take a lot to top that one.) But this certainly stands out as the best work of The Smashing Pumpkins since the 1990s, proving conclusively that placing this band in the “has-been” column is premature, to say the least.
Welcome back, Smashing Pumpkins. Good to see you again.
ALBUM RATING: 4.5 Stars (out of five)