Review: Has Billy backed it up with Oceania?
Despite all the turbulence and wayward turns of their 20+ year trajectory – the bitter break ups, reunions, solo albums, side-projects, public feuding, anti-fan tirades, Billy dating a Veronica – it’s clear many people still hold a soft spot for the Smashing Pumpkins, as evidenced in the excitement around their Australian tour next month.
Partly it lies in all the drama, mostly it’s because the Pumpkins chiselled out a special place in many fans’ childhoods with sublime, era-defining alt-rock anthems like ‘Disarm’, ‘Cherub Rock’ and ‘Zero’. And in many ways, we’re still lusting, hoping, that they’ll one day transport us back to that special place, as impossible as it is.
Listening to Oceania - technically the Pumpkins’ ninth studio album - you get the sense Billy and co. want to get back there too. Boasting a rejuvenated focus and a newly blooded band, this record reconnects with, or at least alludes to, the urgent energy and the emotion of golden era albums like Siamese Dream and Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
Sometimes it sounds almost too close. As has been noted, Oceania’s bombastic opener Quasar instantly recalls Siamese Dream’s bombastic opener ‘Cherub Rock’ until Billy starts hailing deities like a new-age prophet - "God right on! Krishna right on!” Eerily, his steely tone here sounds more than a little like Axl Rose (who, come to think of it, shares a similarly tumultuous band history).
Still, it’s a thrilling introduction that continues into the blustery arena rocker ‘Panopticon’. With its earnest acoustic guitar and melancholy air, the starry-eyed ‘The Celestials’ sounds like the distant cousin of ‘Disarm’ from Siamese Dream before it bursts into a cracking rock crescendo.
After that, the tide starts to turn with mediocre tracks like ‘One Diamond, One Heart’ drowning under wet declarations like “Wherever you must fight / Within your darkest night / I’m always on your side”. Meanwhile, the album centrepiece / title track is a sprawling yet ultimately unfulfilling nine-minute epic, redeemed by the surging riff ride of ‘The Chimera’ two tracks later.
Sadly, the release of Oceania has been somewhat overshadowed by Billy’s penchant for headline-baiting soundbytes, including claims he’ll “piss on f---in’ Radiohead” for their pomposity. That’s pretty rich coming from a guy who’s currently writing a 44-song mega-album ridiculously called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, of which Oceania is just one part.
Given it boasts as many misses as it does hits, thankfully Radiohead won’t be copping a spray anytime soon. Indeed, you get the sense that if Billy spent more time crafting his music than threats of urination, he might be closer to regaining those heady heights that have eluded him for the last decade.
Three pumpkins out of five