The stakes are pretty high for Billy Corgan to reclaim the musical high ground the Smashing Pumpkins once enjoyed before he reunited the group (heâ€™s now the only original member) for the uninspired 2007 comeback,Â Zeitgeist.
He doesnâ€™t always hit the mark on Oceania, but damnit, at least heâ€™s trying.
The roaring, psychedelic â€œQuasarâ€ and its backwards guitar solos, drones and propulsive rhythms, is an immediate highlight; with something this good, the only downside is that there arenâ€™t any others like it on the rest of the album.
A number of Oceaniaâ€™s 13 tracks suffer from radio-ready, mid-tempo, middle-aged, alternative rock syndrome, while lacking hooks strong enough to make them more than average. â€œMy Love is Winter,â€ “The Chimera,” â€œGlissandra,â€ and the synth arpeggio-driven â€œOne Diamond, One Heartâ€ donâ€™t fare so well in that regard.
â€œThe Celestialsâ€ borders on this territory at times, but is bolstered by a surging chorus (and that classic SP buzzsaw guitar sound) that almost makes you look the other way when Corgan sings “I’m gonna love you 101 percent.” â€œViolet Raysâ€ is a fine minor-key ballad, even if it doesnâ€™t fully live up to the prog promises of the symphonic guitar and synth lines of its first minute. â€œPinwheelsâ€ charges along on a spirited synth figure for two minutes before it becomes little more than a pleasant-enough strummy ballad with a few emotive reach-for-the-stars moments.
Elsewhere, songs are haunted by the could-have-beens: â€œInklessâ€ isnâ€™t terrible â€“ the main riff even recalls that of the classic â€œHummerâ€ â€“ but it lacks a strong enough vocal performance (I long for Corganâ€™s younger, prettier voice).
But the albumâ€™s other highlights certainly help elevate it though; the nine-minute title track begins with an eerie keyboard riff and journeys through several expansive sections, concluding with propulsive drums, echoed guitar solos and Mellotron. The haunting, somber â€œPale Horseâ€ is one of the albumâ€™s best ballads, and the vast, drifting elegy, â€œWildflower,â€ is a lovely way to bring things to a close.
Corgan and his new band do an admirable job here as a whole, and while Oceania is way more likeable than most of what nu-Smashing Pumpkins has released thus far, itâ€™s still a bit underwhelming. But if this ultimately ends up as the first step toward a full creative revitalization, itâ€™s at least a good start.