Oceania. I’d hate to say this is a return to form because… who the fuck knows what is the “form” of Smashing Pumpkins? They’ve changed in every single album, tackling psychedelia, shoegaze, prog, experimental, concept albums and metal. No album resembles the previous and I for one am grateful of a band that always mutates so much while still keeping those atmospheres and those lyrics.
Sorry, it was a soapbox moment. Here’s another one. I’ve noticed that whereas fans of Radiohead will take most of what the band offers, no matter how oblique, some fans of Smashing Pumpkins (and Weezer!) seem to be stuck in one phase. My utterly baseless explanation is that Radiohead fans will appeal to some sort of logical impulse in the brain, whereas Smashing Pumpkins will click on the more visceral, emotional side. This doesn’t mean that you are either a fan of Radiohead or Smashing Pumpkins, just the way the emotional connection is built.
Anyways, fucking a, I’ve been waiting for this album. A lot. Since the whole Teargarden by Kaleidyscope kicked around in 2009, the sounds of Billy Corgan and company being left loose in the studio attracted me. Some results were excellent (‘Tom Tom’, ‘A stitch in time’, ‘Astral Planes’), some weren’t (‘Widow make my mind’, ‘Owata’). The “single every x amount of time” was a good experiment, but it seemed that this band needed to release an album to have a cohesive platform. Smashing Pumpkins is a band that works at its best with albums, even if the format has been taken a beating from the iPod generation (with some excellent exceptions).
After the rope-a-dope wallop that is ‘Quasar’ (Samurai Mike! Rock on!) and ‘Panopticon’, we get a massive treat in the form of ‘The celestials’. While sounding like what you could imagine 1994 sounded like, it’s fresh (love the synth) and the soundscapes laid by Smashing Pumpkins are simply gorgeous. The ending, with a tone in a mesmerising drone, is simply beautiful. Wouldn’t you know? There’s another gem after, called ‘Violet Rays’. It feels proggy (goddammit, I love that synth line at the beginning) and spacey, where all instruments have room to breathe and move around. If Patrick Troughton’s Doctor listened to music in the Tardis, this was it.
I don’t believe in such a thing as a “Perfect Smashing Pumpkins album”. I do like them all (with the exception of Gish), their ups and downs. ‘My love is winter’ is not a bad song at all per se, but suffers after the 4 previous ones raised the standard to a rarefied atmosphere (the song still is a keeper, though). Mind you, ‘Pale horse’ is slightly similar in emotions and does a much better job, perhaps enjoying a lazier pace to let the ideas be merry.
TheFutureEmbrace is an underrated gem. I’ve said it before. It was dream pop and shoegaze way before it was fashionable. The synth heavy tracks in Oceania are ‘One diamond, one heart’ and ‘Pinwheels’. The former is the most ethereal track in this release, warm as an embrace and just as lovely. ‘Pinwheels’, what an impossible thing to categorise. While still as floaty as ‘One diamond, one heart’, it’s still as rock hard as an aquiclude. And then it flows away like water. It’s the most dynamic track of the whole damned album and one of the finest moments. The vocal harmonies are amazing too (Nicole‘s voice is perfect for this).
‘Oceania’. I hate to be that guy, but I loved the live edition better, because, fuck it, it was awesome. Heard it for the first time at Sheffield‘s O2 Academy last year and that was an amazing moment (link). The recorded edition does accomplish the magnitude of an epic prog song, sort of ‘Pinwheels’ but having hit the gym quite a few times, buffing up and soaring in the skies. It never becomes as self-indulgent like ‘Gossamer’ (which is 20 minutes of awesome music and then a lot of crazy soloing) and the final bit is simply perfect. I don’t mind the fade-out (hey, it worked for ‘Porcelina of the vast oceans’). Heck, if you live in England, ‘Oceania’ describes perfectly how the weather changes.
‘The Chimera’ and ‘Glissandra’ are like Scylla and Charybdis, awaiting with ill intentions after the soothing calmness laid by Smashing Pumpkins. Both are cracking rock songs with some intense bass. Speaking of intense, ‘Inkless’ is just that. The intensity of a well-worn fretboard being exercised properly, taken to some squealy heights, that place where this iteration of the band perfectly gels together. Dig the solo. ‘Wildflower’ feels like Zeitgeist‘s ‘Pomp and circumstances’, but stripped down from the heavier synths, with a swelling, subdued synth line paired with a lovely arpeggio. More vocal harmonies are always welcomed and after the rockier and calmer sides of the band have intertwined, this is the natural ending: a long goodbye with strings (mellotron too!) and a flippin’ sweet solo.
Have I mentioned I’m a fan?
Anyways, as said before, Oceania is a very cohesive album by Smashing Pumpkins. By no means do I think the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope single strategy is a bust, but I think an album like Oceania was needed to make the band work as a unit (and having seen them live, they do). Simply great.
Words: Sam J. “fanboy” Valdes Lopez
PS: Zeitgeist = fire, Oceania = water, Machina = air, Adore = Earth. Discuss.