The Lowered Expectations Award for an Album Far Better Than It Has Any Right to Be
By David M. Goldstein | 14 December 2012
Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania
Like most Caucasian music dorks born in the late ’70s, I’ve spent most of my life predisposed to giving Billy Corgan the benefit of the doubt. This began to erode at some point in 2003 when I witnessed a two and a half hour Zwan show with no Smashing Pumpkins songs. By the time of Zeitgeist (2007) and the “reunited” Pumpkins shows with the marathon sets consisting largely of internet only material and screechy Pink Floyd covers, I began wondering if Corgan was somehow engaged in a three-way wager with Rivers Cuomo and Chris Cornell to see which ’90s staple could fuck their legacy the hardest.
Corgan is still probably the most delusional of the three. This is illustrated by his recent insistence on playing the entirety of Oceania front to back at recent Smashing Pumpkins shows before reluctantly rolling out the hits to half-full hockey arenas; the bevy of empty seats at a recent Brooklyn show were going for $25, marked down from three times that, and supposedly in the name of Sandy relief. And yet, for the first time in what seems like at least fifteen years, the Smashing Pumpkins name has resulted in an album that the Gen-Y folk who developed carpal tunnel air drumming to “Geek U.S.A.” might actually enjoy.
Let’s ignore that Oceania is reportedly just the middle portion of some forty-two song whatever-the-fuck Corgan opus and focus on the fact that at least five of these thirteen songs would have sounded fine on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995), and that two of them, “Panopticon” and “The Celestials,” are the probably the best pop songs Corgan has written since “1979” (or if we’re being charitable, “Stand Inside Your Love”). This is somehow even more impressive considering “The Celestials” contains lyrics in which he compares himself to “special K” and vows to love a special someone “one hundred one percent.” The verses are catchy and the multi-tracked guitar leads are teary-eyed, both songs brimming with the volume swells and high-school loner drama that the die-hards have sorely missed. The Smashing Pumpkins were the last band I expected to release enjoyable material in 2012, but it’s rather startling how many times I’ve listened to these two songs. And if there’s nothing else on Oceania that quite measures up, it at least finds Corgan playing to his strengths more often than not, and the new, twenty-two -year-old drummer does an admirable Jimmy Chamberlain impression.
Granted, there’s something to be said for going in with severely diminished expectations; listening to Oceania and then putting on Siamese Dream (1993) is not recommended. But the fact that the 2012 version of Billy Corgan was able to produce something resembling enjoyable rock music is to be lauded. Oceania is, at best, more than decent, and that’s plenty.