Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins

oceania (emi)

Their ninth studio album - and first in five years - Oceania is the latest instalment from the Billy Corgan-led Smashing Pumpkins' Teargarden by Kaleidyscope concept album series; a project that began in 2009 as an ongoing 44-song cycle.

On Oceania, Corgan is joined by a relatively new, but nonetheless, tried-and-tested band consisting of drummer Mike Byrne, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Corgan being the only original member. Fans are already dubbing the album as a return to the band's Prog-Rock days, however Corgan begs to differ, saying that "The songs on a ground level are completely different than old Smashing Pumpkins songs. There's almost no comparison".

So, whether the album is treading old ground or not, what is certain is that Oceania features some of the most memorable and invigorating songs since their seminal 1993 album, Siamese Dream.

Album opener, Quasar, launches into a barrage of heavy psychedelic rock grooves, crying out with guitar drones that could be straight out of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love.The heavy, riffing guitars and sheer propulsion of Byrne's drumming are the perfect intro to the record; a clear signal of Corgan's return.

The Celestials is a slice of Ballad Rock shifting towards the Pumpkins' earlier sound and Corgan's distinctive vocals, while Violet Rays begins as a theatrical, melancholic Prog Rock affair. Circling piano phrases create an eerie atmosphere as Corgan desperately wails, "I'll leave with anyone this night / I'll kiss anyone tonight" - which is almost a direct quote from Mellon Collie's In the Arms of Sleep. This referencing and reworking of the Pumpkins' back catalogue seems to be a regular occurrence throughout Oceania, and whether deliberate or not, it allows a consistant solidarity in the Pumpkins' sound, while enabling Corgan to realise his ambitions with a new one.

Oceania is perhaps best represented by pinwheels; beginning with a repeating keyboard line that swells and grows into swathes of acoustic and electric guitar, there is an anthemic stature to the track created by powerful guitar strums that resonate and linger. The track then moves into a brief acoustic folk-rock section before blossoming into the epitome of Pop lyricism and Rock production.

At just over nine minutes long, title track Oceania, is almost like a mini symphony with its changing moods, instrumentation and theatrical form. The next couple of tracks, The Chimera and Inkless, are polished, radio-friendly numbers, despite Corgan claiming to have written the album with no singles in mind. The former, a Classic-Rock stomper with duelling guitars reminiscent with the sharply executed techniques and shimmering tones of Queen's Brian May.

Luckily never too far away in Oceania is the towering wall of guitars, constantly driving the album forward and helping to bring a sense of cohesion to the work. Corgan's tendencies to veer towards the more ethereal, dream-pop inflections are beautifully balanced by the soaring rock passages and cinematic soundscapes. The result: an ambitious album that rarely loses momentum, spurred on by Corgan's pure determination to deliver.