The Smashing Pumpkins – [Album]

Thursday, 28 June 2012

One day, back in the summer of 2010, I found myself strolling through the streets of Midtown Sacramento, taking part in a monthly affair known as the Second Saturday Art Walk. Paintings, sculptures, wine… not necessarily a high class affair, but an affair nonetheless. Anyway, as I made my way through the crowded streets, a lamppost cluttered with papers caught my eye. Packed in with ads for numerous bands I’d never heard of, I thought I saw The Smashing Pumpkins mentioned. I actually had to stop and walk back to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Sure enough, there was Billy Corgan’s trademark shiny head and smile, along with a date for a show at a small theater in town. Well, I said, this I gotta see.

I was a big fan of the Pumpkins in my younger days, thanks to Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness premiering right as I was getting into rock music in the sixth grade. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” quickly became an anthem of the times, and I always wanted to catch them in action. Granted, I started to lose interest in later years as their sound changed and they eventually broke up, but that album (or at least portions of it) will always have a special place in my heart.

So apparently they’re back together? We hit up the concert to find that Corgan was the only remaining original member, but he did a fine job replacing those missing from my memory. Chick on bass, Asian guy on guitar…. Still pretty close, but what’s important is they sounded pretty solid, and there was no denying that Corgan was still running the show.

The performance had some highs and lows. There were several classics (“Zero,” “1979”) inexcusably missing from the set list, but there were some fun covers and jams mixed in to (sort of) make up for it. That was all well and good enough, but there was a lot of new stuff and, while it sounded really good, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a certain change of tone from a lot of their earlier material.

Their latest album, Oceania, left a similar impression. Back in my day, these guys were trapped in cages with rage, in love with their sadness, etc. Sure, there were plenty of lighter songs (that were excellent), but you could still picture these guys smashing some pumpkins when it came down to it. This new edition of the Pumpkins seems like there’s a lot less smashing going on. It works, but it is different.

This new album sounds a lot more like Zwan, Corgan’s post-Pumpkins band, than The Smashing Pumpkins of yore. Along with the focus on love and loss, there’s a heavy use of synthesizers that gives the album more of a trippy, experimental feel. The nine-minute title track is a good example of this, with an intro that gave me flashbacks to fantasy movies from the Eighties like The Neverending Story. “One Diamond, One Heart” follows a similar path too.

Still, it is undeniably The Pumpkins and it's possible to occasionally catch hints of "the way they were." “Panopticon” drifts back towards their grunge roots a bit, as does "Quasar,” which opens the record. None of the tracks on the album really stand out on their own like “Cherub Rock” or “Tonight, Tonight” once did but, taken as a whole, Oceania is a solid album which showcases the rebirth of a band that is perhaps trying tread back toward the indie roots from which the band germinated originally.

But does it work? Passably so. From what I remember, The Smashing Pumpkins has always been Billy Corgan & Co., rather than one cohesive band. That's what you’re getting here again, much like Trent Reznor with Nine Inch Nails. Corgan has been known to experiment with different sounds throughout the life of The Smashing Pumpkins, so it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Oceania isn’t the music that I remember from my younger days, but really that’s nothing to complain about. This is an interesting, experimental album and, as long as Corgan’s whiny voice has never bothered you, this album can be an interesting experience.


Further Reading:
Ground Control –
Other Voices 002 – [Column]


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