We expect nothing less than overinflated self-importance from a Smashing Pumpkins record, and Oceania doesn’t disappoint: Within the first stanza of opener “Quasar,” Billy Corgan has given shoutouts to God, Krishna, and the Hebrew-deity code name Yod He Vau He. (Each mention is followed by a cheerful “right on!” as if to suggest Corgan and history’s holiest religious figures were just a bunch of bros high-fiving each other at a sports bar.)
The 13-track, hour-long Oceania is reportedly just an excerpt of an even more grandiose, 44-track work (with the prog-as-fuck title Teargarden by Kaleidyscope), but the album actually speaks more to the humbling circumstances leading up to its creation: In the wake of Zeitgeist, 2007’s comeback non-event, Corgan had driven away his last remaining founding member, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, and was reduced to rebuilding his band through open casting calls. (Alas, he still had enough dignity to refrain from spinning it into a reality-TV show.) Given this instability, it’s no surprise the frontman sticks to his comfort zones on Oceania, which comes awash in Siamese Dreamy guitar riffs, Adore-esque synths, and at least one Mellon Collie-sized opus (the nine-minute title track).
But while Corgan capably retraces various Pumpkins signatures with his new recruits, his voice is not the commanding instrument it once was; as a result, the album lacks the sort of earthquaking hooks that soundtracked the 1990s. If there are any advances made on Oceania, they’re heard in the album’s bright, playful spirit—where Zeitgeist was a belly-flopped attempt to reassert the Pumpkins as the biggest band in the world, on Oceania, Corgan just sounds happy he has a band at all.
Playlist picks: “The Chimera,” “Oceania”