Like vegemite, the Smashing Pumpkins are an acquired taste. However, I’ve always thought they were one of the best bands to come out of the ’90s. Detractors will dismiss Corgan’s whiny voice, their pomposity, sense of self-importance, hypermelodramatic tone and insane level of egotism. But those are precisely all the things I like about them. Corgan is one of the few performers who understands that rock and roll is about all these things, and he plays it up to the max in an ironic and self-aware way that you wish a band like Radiohead could grasp.
While Siamese Dream remains their best album to this day, I’ve continued to be a fan of Corgan’s work. Despite its detractors, Corgan himself among them, I still think the Zwan album was one of the best things he’s ever done. I’ll even go so far as to say that, up until this point, with the exception of that ghastly solo effort he did about eight years ago, he’s never put out a bad album. Or at least nothing which didn’t have a few good songs on it.
Until now. Oceania is a shocker. There’s no songs on it. It starts off with the same production trick that Cherub Rock employs – gradually bringing all the instruments in to create a wall of sound – and it’s a delightful start, but that’s the best the album gets – copying a great moment from the past. Buggerall happens after that – just phoned-in Pumpkins by numbers with no memorable hooks, passages, melodies or lyrics.
It’s a shame, because up until now, I was rather enjoying the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project, and the band had put out some interesting stuff. Horrible video notwithstanding, Owata ranks up there with the Pumpkin’s best songs, and there’s been other gems like Freaks, A Song for a Son and Widow Make My Mind released. It seems to me that what has happened is that, while care and attention has been paid to previous releases in the project (almost like single releases), the album itself has become more of a dumping ground for the crap, and the sum of it is far less than each the songs that had come before. In fact, every song from the Teargarden project so far is better than anything on Oceania.
The publicity blurb for this album had Corgan saying that Oceania was an album "unlike any other I have made". He’s right. It’s terrible.