Oceania, the new record from Smashing Pumpkins, is surprising, by virtue of simply recalling the bandís previous triumphs. Frontman Billy Corgan has always been the mastermind behind the Pumpkins, even during the original lineupís heyday, but the idea of there ever being another good release under that particular moniker seemed improbable, especially after the dull chugging of would-be comeback effort Zeitgeist. Yet here we are, in 2012, and Iím telling you to check out this album.
Follow me on a tangent, wonít you? Billy Corgan will never get the respect he deserves, even though he is a self-described musical genius. And I completely agree. I really do think heís underrated, and I really do think heís a musical genius. But genius can be measured in different ways. If Kurt Cobain is the alt-rock Michael Jackson (kicked in MTVís doors for his genre, reshaped the mainstream, left behind a handful of universally acclaimed records before dying young), then Corgan is the alt-rock Prince (technically proficient, insanely prolific, kind of a dick about it), forever chasing validation. After self-releasing a bunch of tunes and getting nowhere, Corgan has done what Prince did a little while ago: Distilled his best work into a new crop of crowd-pleasing songs. Oceania is his Musicology.
Much like Musicology, Oceania recalls its creatorís best songs. It roars like ďCherub Rock,Ē swells like ďDisarmĒ and possesses all the grandeur of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Itís a back-to-basics record from a guy who loves going larger than life. While no one would ever confuse it with the Pumpkinsí í90s period, itís still a worthy addition, and a nice lil slice of redemption to boot. Do I care that the band consists of hired hands? Not as much as I care about the quality rocking.
The downside to mining past triumphs is that the Pumpkins were never exactly critical darlings. Everything wrong with the band before is still wrong here. Corganís lyrics have always proven contentious and clunky, and here he gets as maudlin and melodramatic as one would expect him to get. ďMy love is winter / My love is lostĒ goes the hook from, natch, ďMy Love is Winter.Ē Corgan really rides that one hard, but he also serves it up with a bevy of chiming guitars, booming drums and a catchy synth part. Harp on the lyrics all you want, that guitar solo is still awesome.
Stylistically, the record falls somewhere between Siamese Dreamís epic guitar dirges and Adoreís goth-pop leanings, only with way more electronic textures. Those happen to be my two favorite Pumpkins albums, so Iím certainly not complaining. Oceania is supposed to be part of a larger batch of songs entitled Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, which the band was releasing for free on the Internet one song at a time, but much like the lineup change, Iím not terribly interested in that. What matters is that, separated from hype and hate, Oceania works on its own.