The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania (Martha’s Music/EMI Label Services)

The Smashing Pumpkins’ ninth studio album, ‘Oceania’, consists of 13 songs all of which amounts to the strongest and most vibrant material Billy Corgan has released in well over a decade.

‘Oceania’, like the album title suggests, is epic in every sense, flowing effortlessly from one track to the next. The choice of instrumentation in each of the songs is key for me, keeping the album fresh and the listener’s interest firmly retained throughout the album’s 60 minutes .

Special mention must also be made about the production. An absolutely pristine sound where synths shimmer, the character of each of the guitars can be easily distinguished and the drum sounds are simply immense.

And it’s not just the instruments that sound great; Billy’s voice is also in fine form, opting for a warmer sound and sounding less abrasive and nasal-y than he has at times sounded in the past.

“Quasar” opens the album with a Led Zeppelin worthy 70’s inspired guitar riff. Combined with guitar solos flying left and right over the verses, we’re treated to a “Gish” era sounding Smashing Pumpkins. Continuing with a one-two-punch, “Panopticon” shows us that Billy and co. are in riff-tastic form.

Things change slightly by the third track, ‘The Celestials’, easing back on the guitars and riffs and instead introducing strings and an acoustic guitar, but not for long. Back come the guitars for the chorus and here ‘The Celestials’ returns to a familiar sounding Smashing Pumpkins circa ‘Mellon Collie….’. Yet despite the familiarity, it occurs to me how relevant and “now” the Pumpkins actually sound.

‘Violet Rays’ reminds us of Billy’s ability to write great hooks and great pop songs, (i.e. ‘Rocket’, ‘Today’, ‘Tonight Tonight’) which many of us may have forgotten during the last decade. Opening with a synth arpeggio, which continues throughout the song, ‘Violet Rays’ moves along in a 6/8 rhythm. Mood-wise there is a quality that reminded me of ‘Stand Inside Your Love’ from the band’s ‘Machina’ album, with its guitars ringing out over a classic Pumpkins’ vocal hook. ‘Violet Rays’ also features that signature Pumpkins move which the band have done so famously over the years, where they combine guitar riff and drum accents (and much to my pleasure continues to appear in other places on the album).

With each track that follows, the presence and exploration of synths become more prominent and for me ‘One Diamond, One Heart’ is an immediate standout track with 80’s style synths and a brilliant stadium-worthy chorus surely deserved for radio play (the song is not unlike New Order’s 2001 album ‘Get Ready’ which Billy was a guest vocalist and tour guitarist for).

The title track is a nine minute opus characterized by minor notes, swirling 80’s synth-pads and a dominant and driving bass line, (think The Cure during the ‘Faith’ or ‘Pornography’ era albums). It then oddly takes a turn for a minute or two into a 70’s sounding acoustic guitar and vocal section before returning this time with 70’s-style dueling guitar solos, before the song fades to end.

After a brief diversion experienced with title track and ‘Pinwheels’ before that, ‘The Chimera’ takes us back to the sound of the album’s first two tracks and the more trademark sounding Smashing Pumpkins.

‘Glissandra’ is another catchy number and strong contender for a single, again featuring that classic Smashing Pumpkins sound. But none is more worthy of the tag ‘classic’ than the track ‘Inkless’. Featuring an incredible, nostalgia-inducing main riff and all the right accents in all the right places, ‘Inkless’ is  a definite album highlight and personal favorite.

‘Wildflower’ closes the album consisting of only synth and vocal and has a dream-like quality, successfully putting to bed what is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding album.  Although ‘Oceania’ drags at times and may be missing a track as anthemic as ‘Today’ or ‘Tonight Tonight’, Billy Corgan can certainly take pride that despite numerous obstacles and critics along the way, The Smashing Pumpkins have struck gold once again. The only question is will this rock anyone’s world the way that ‘Siamese Dream’ and ‘Mellon Collie…’ did almost 20 years ago?

Listen to ‘The Celestials’ below:

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