Chicagoan enigmas return with dazzling and complex ninth studio album.
Ian Winwood 2012-06-15
There are few groups in modern music that testify to the power that is the name of a band to quite the degree of The Smashing Pumpkins. The group’s legion of devoted and attentive fans know that Oceania is really the work of one man: they know that Billy Corgan writes all the songs, they know that in the studio he plays many of the instruments, they know that he’s responsible for the hiring and the firing of those with whom he chooses to share a stage.
They also know that, of the line-up that recorded what the cognoscenti believe to be the group’s classic albums (1993’s Siamese Dream and 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness), only Corgan remains. But when this enigmatic and often brilliant writer places his name to a solo album, as he did on 2005’s TheFutureEmbrace, few people care. Make it a Smashing Pumpkins release, however, and the power of band as brand kicks into gear.
Corgan himself is unusually candid when he says, “I know I wrote more great songs by the pound in the years 1992 to 1997 than I have in the past five years,” but he is also correct when he observes that “that doesn’t mean that I still can’t write a great song.” On Oceania, he has written a number of great songs. On a first listen, though, this is not immediately apparent. Of late, The Smashing Pumpkins have not been a band to emphasise their more accessible elements, preferring instead to test the listener’s commitment with layers of electronics and melodies carried only by Corgan’s deliberately fragile and nasal voice.
Give it time, though, and the bald truth becomes evident: you just can’t keep a good song down. In a just world, this album’s title-track and compositions such as My Love Is Winter will be seen as the work of a man still equipped with a sense of direction, a writer determined not to fit the hole into which his detractors wish to hammer him. Straddling the line between art and commerce, between arena rock and cult devotion, for the first time in quite a while Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins sound energised and alive.