I must admit, despite being a long-time Smashing Pumpkins’ fan, I was looking forward to hearing Billy Corgan’s mid-life crisis presented in this compact 13-song instalment titled Oceania. The sadist in me expected Corgan’s recent relationship (and subsequent split) with one half of The Veronica’s, along with the establishment of his wrestling company, Resistance Pro, to dilute the once-powerful and angst-ridden songwriting ability with songs about lipstick, eating disorders, and pros and cons of casting juiced-up, bulked-up men engaging in what they would like us to believe is a sport. Up to the point of me pressing play on this latest instalment of Corgan & Co (correction, Smashing Pumpkins), I had fully expected this to be the result. How wrong I was.
Any doubts I had were quickly erased with Cherub Rock esque album opener Quasar. With Corgan’s latest cohorts Mike Byrne on drums, Jeff Schroeder on guitar and the seemingly prerequisite of a gorgeous female bassist filled by Nicole Fiorentino, all up to the task where a lot is going on throughout the song, but not to the point where the listener forgets that Corgan is the orchestrator. Gone is the angst that has so long been associated with Corgan’s songwriting, replaced with refreshingly optimistic lyricism, and an energy that can only be generated by surrounding oneself with people a generation younger than he.
Panopticon follows in a similar vein, and whilst the themes are much lighter, the output is very much like the Pumpkins we once knew and loved. It’s a shame that much of the fanbase, who grew frustrated with latter-day Pumpkins’ material, won’t treat their ears to this album. The Celestials builds from an acoustic start into a constant crescendo, where the strings of both guitar and violin play perfectly with Corgan’s cries of ‘Never let the summer catch you down, never let your thoughts run free’.
The use of keyboard and synths throughout the album is perhaps more than what is necessary, as the delightful Pinwheels is hidden behind a two-minute intro of keyboard loops. The interplay between Corgan and Fiorentino’s vocals is a pleasant surprise, with each declaring ‘I’ve got you’ amongst violin and acoustic guitar. The nine-minute opus of the title track takes many directions, each of them an experience unto themselves. The opening riffs on The Chimera signal a return to Corgan’s hey days, but while there are no Zero-like moments, it’s clear that he still has the ability to churn out a catchy riff.
Whilst the tail end of the album is largely built from the material that saw their fans start to question their faith in the prospects of Corgan producing something that would capture them as it did in the early 90s, it is a refreshing welcome back to form from one of music’s great polarisers. Love him or hate him, Corgan still cuts a commanding figure at the centre of the stage, and most of Oceania would stand up against the slew of back-catalogue classics that we love the Pumpkins for. For those who had given up, I urge you give this a chance.