Posted 21 June 2012 - 12:33 PM
I have been looping Oceania at every opportunity for the past two days for a total of eight complete listens at this point. It has taken several listens for the album to grow on me. In fact, being one of the few (maybe the only?) people who thought Zeitgeist was a great comeback album that was sonically exciting, contained a strong set of songs, and which did grab me immediately upon first listen, the transition to Oceania feels a bit abrupt in the same way the transition from MCIS to Adore was dramatic. However, Oceania's lack of immediacy may actually be an asset in my case, as it's drawn me in slowly and caused me to listen more closely to the songs and individual performances (in the same way I absorbed Adore) rather than simply throwing in and declaring the album great without having given it a more critical listen.
With the release of Oceania it is obvious that we are once again hearing a band called The Smashing Pumpkins rather than a solo project representing Billy Corgan's ideal vision of a band that would be called The Smashing Pumpkins. While the inclusion of other band members in the recording process dynamically changes the sound of the recorded 'band' we have known since Siamese Dream, it is refreshing to hear a project which is rooted in Billy's songwriting yet breathes with the interpretations of others - and such skilled others at that. The contributions of the new members are readily apparent and do great service to the composition of the album. The re-established rhythm section is fascinating. Nicole's bass lines are the most creatively unique rumblings we have ever heard in the lower register of an SP record. Mike's style is punctuated with the tastefully placed blistering speed we are accustomed to hearing on an SP record, but is decidedly (and delightfully) heavier on this recording than anything we have previously heard either from Mike or his predecessor. The drum sounds achieved on this record - particularly the snares - are thicker, fatter, and more modern than on previous recordings. The power of the foundation created by Mike and Nicole, established by their compositional approach to their individual instruments and the songs themselves, and the new-found space the rhythm section allows in these songs, seems to give the guitars and vocals more room to stretch out and play more organically than they have had on any album since Gish. The interplay between Jeff and Billy's guitars - in tone, in technique, and in interpretation - is particularly inspiring to a degree not experienced in this band since the MCIS live-era. Jeff is an inventive and prolific musician, and his skill and presence seem to inspire a wanderer in Billy, allowing him to traipse off in directions he could not when he was composing alone, which then opens new avenues for Jeff to explore in a constant give, take, push, and return throughout the album. Overall, the true band approach to Oceania establishes a great new footing from which the band can build into the future.
At this point I can profess my outright love for "Quasar' and 'Inkless'. Both are solid songs that I believe stand on their own and also in the context of the album, and I could easily see these beside the Pumpkins' other classic material. 'Panopticon', 'The Celestials', and 'My Love Is Winter' are also standouts - particularly the arrangement of MLIW. "Glissandra' has perhaps the most memorable hook of anything that has been formally recorded by TSP since the Zeitgeist era. The ethereal guitar leads on the otherwise subtle 'Wildflower' repeatedly cause me to pause and soak them in, and the obdurate intro guitars of 'The Chimera' catch my attention on every listen.
While I don't yet hear the consistently and immediately memorable riffs of the 'classic' SP material (with the exception of 'Glissandra'), I continue to remind myself that Oceania is arguably the first 'SP band record' since Gish. Especially on the heels of the reissues, Oceania's first 3 tracks immediately call those early recordings to mind, both in sound and in spirit. This is a grand compliment and a promising statement for a re-established Smashing Pumpkins. What we hear on Oceania is a stellar but young band producing their first album together. Billy has done this before, and we have all been privileged to participate. Based upon this album, I have every faith that he can do it again. If Gish was the beginning of a band, Oceania sounds like the beginning of an era.