While talking up the Smashing Pumpkins’ Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, a 44-song magnum opus doled out one free track at a time, Billy Corgan dismissed the album as a dead medium and declared he would never make another—a proclamation that, given Corgan’s long history of contradicting himself, all but guaranteed another Smashing Pumpkins album. The public’s disinterest in the Teargarden project only expedited that inevitability. At its core, Teargarden was a bid for attention, so when its first dozen tracks failed to make even the faintest ripple outside of the most devoted fan circles, Corgan reversed course and announced Oceania, a traditionally released album framed as an installment in the Teargarden series. Corgan’s about-face underscores once again that, for all the medium’s challenges, the album is still rock listeners’ preferred vehicle for new music. Even Dave Grohl, the do-no-wrong honors student and football captain to Corgan’s bullied drama kid, couldn’t have achieved his recent media saturation if Foo Fighters had released Wasting Light piecemeal online.
Corgan picked the right time to release new music in a format that people might actually hear, because Oceania is the first release from the Smashing Pumpkins’ much-maligned quasi-reunion that deserves a wide audience. Unlike 2007’s Zeitgeist, the shrill, harshly metallic comeback album that irreparably soured casual listeners on the Pumpkins reunion, or the previous Teargarden installments—pleasant if overly fey works that felt presumptuous coming from a musician who had yet to re-earn his fans’ trust—Oceania nails the intricate soft/heavy balance that distinguished the Pumpkins’ most-loved records. Its songs simultaneously roar and sigh; its guitars wallop without leaving bruises. A sense of wonder carries through even its loudest tracks.
Corgan has teased Oceania as the first new Pumpkins release to escape the shadow of the old band, but if anything, Oceania actively seeks out that shadow. From the rolling buildup and guitar surges of album-opener “Quasar,” an unmistakable echo of the revving “Cherub Rock” intro, to the “Tonight, Tonight”-esque strings and “1979” guitar churns of “The Celestials,” the record teems with callbacks to the Pumpkins’ heyday, but they’re cut with enough new textures and ideas that they rarely feel like forced homage. And though Corgan claims he wrote the album with no single in mind, “Inkless” and “The Chimera” are the kind of slickly agreeable radio rock songs he essentially swore off at the turn of the century. It may be too late for Corgan to reclaim the alt-rock throne he’s long pretended to have no interest in, but with Oceania he’s finally delivered the Smashing Pumpkins album that everybody wanted the first time he decided to revive the name.