Smashing Pumpkins

Martha's Music, 2012


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Let’s get a few things out of the way:

1) This is not the band’s best album since Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.

2) This is not the Smashing Pumpkins. It’s Billy Corgan and three newbies.

a) Since the Pumpkins have always been about Corgan, this is not necessarily newsworthy. I merely point it out for those who pick this up expecting Jimmy Chamberlin’s drums or an appearance by James Iha on guitar. They are not here.

3) This has nothing to do with the Pumpkins’ current Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project (more info below).

4) There is no real reason for this disc to exist.

Look, I’m all for bands evolving their sound. Nobody wants to hear a rehash of the same classic album six times. But the new sound still has to be catchy, or maybe good, or at least not a disservice to the original band name. Oceania is not catchy, not really all that good, and it’s kind of a disservice to the Pumpkins. Let’s just say nobody will be talking about it in three months.

But people will buy it anyway and say it’s great because they long for the days of their youth, when Siamese Dream was huge and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” won the Grammy and so forth.

I’m in the minority that feel 2007’s Zeitgeist, the last studio release with the Pumpkins name on it, was actually pretty good. Corgan and Chamberlin created a moody, dense disc with layered guitars and synthesizers, and the best of the music was well worth revisiting. It even had a rock radio semi-hit single in “Tarantula” and an overlooked gem in “For God And Country.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Oceania does not have any of this. Most songs just blaze away with processed guitar layers, unremarkable synths and forgettable lyrics (sample: “God, right on! / Krishna, right on! / Mark, right on!), except for the slow songs that float by in a haze. I guess the song titles are kinda cool, if you’re a Dungeons & Dragons fan (samples: “Quasar,” “Panopticon,” “The Chimera,” and of course “Glissandra.”). I can’t tell you how any of these songs go and I’ve listened to them three times. That’s a problem.

Those paying attention to the Pumpkins know that Corgan is in the middle of the 44-song Teargarden project, in which one song is released every couple of months for free on the band’s Web site, and then every four songs are collected and sold as an EP. Some of this stuff is very good, such as “Astral Planes” and “A Stitch in Time,” proving that Corgan hasn’t lost his knack for songwriting.

And trust me, I’m not the kind of fan limited to Siamese Dream; my all-time favorite Pumpkins song is on Machina. But for some reason, Corgan took a break from Teargarden to record this song cycle, and along the way forgot to imbue it with the emotion and intensity of the Pumpkins’ best work, both sonically and lyrically. Why the need to repeat “Wasted along the way” six times at the beginning of “Wildflower,” or “The stars are out tonight,” or the aforementioned “Mark, right on!,” or most of the song “One Diamond, One Heart?” I think that was a Kay Jewelers slogan.

Mike Byrne should be credited for his solid drumming, as it fits in well with Corgan’s songs, and Nicole Florentino’s bass is a highlight. The fault is not with the musicians, and surely in concert this stuff will be more exciting live. But it simply does not hold up to repeated listens, regardless of whether you are a fan of the band or a total newcomer who grew up on Nickelback and Avenged Sevenfold (I sympathize). 

As I said before, songwriters need to evolve and grow…but they still need to craft memorable songs with hooks and melodies, and there are just too few of those on this disc. The best cuts here are the winding, ambitious title track (a classic Corgan 10-minute epic) and the melancholy “Violet Rays,” but there is little else to recommend.

Trust me, it hurts to give such a low grade to a classic band. Let’s hope the rest of the Teargarden project is better than the whole of Oceania.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2012 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Martha's Music, and is used for informational purposes only.