We live in a retro-obsessed rock climate choking on a glut of half-arsed comebacks, bury-the-hatchet reunions and deluxe reissues. But seriously, does anybody still need the Smashing Pumpkins?
Billy Corgan first put the emo-metal outsiders of grunge back together in 2007, candidly admitting that his work with other projects like Zwan and TheFutureEmbrace would never generate the same commercial clout as his multi-platinum 1990s band. In recent years, however, Corgan has become less famous for his music than for his prickly interviews and public spats with former lovers.
Will Oceania simply plunge him further down the U-bend of pomposity and irrelevance? Initial signs for the first new Pumpkins album in five years are worrying. Although Corgan insists this is very much a shared group effort, he’s backed by yet another all-new trio of faceless hired hands who will doubtless be dumped back in indie-rock Palookaville as soon as they displease their shiny-domed Bond-villain boss.
Even more preposterously, Oceania is billed as part of a marathon 44-track “song cycle”, with the parodically pretentious umbrella title Teargarden By Kaleidyscope. Why do Spinal Tap’s fabled “jazz odyssey” and Jack The Ripper musical side projects come to mind?
And so we plunge into the stormy seas of Oceania with Quasar and Pantopticon, both expansive, baroque’n’roll epics full of florid poetry and operatic bombast. We’re in Mellon Collie territory here, all sumptuous orchestral sprawl and ravishing gothic melodrama. But Corgan also gives us flashes of Siamese Dream in the fuzz-pedal euphoria of The Celestials, and a hint of Adore in the feline electronica of Pinwheels. He also bares his romantic side on semi-acoustic numbers such as the shimmering My Love in Winter and the rather lovely spangle-pop ballad One Diamond, One Heart.
In fairness, Oceania proves to be a persuasive effort for a notoriously uneven band on their second or third comeback, full of reminders of past glories without straying into self- parody. There’s surprisingly little bluster and bloat here, although the marathon title track almost serves as a career-spanning Corgan CV in miniature.
There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but this is a solid return to the classic Pumpkins formula of roaring melodies and soaring emotions.