Corgan’s passion, fresh band members combine for inventive new album

William Malsam

Billy Corgan cannot be stopped. The longtime leader of The Smashing Pumpkins has lost all of his founding members, but he is still moving forward. The Pumpkins are his band, his dream, and if he wants to release Oceania, a full length release within the bold concept album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, he will — because Corgan is a man of ambition.

But it’s hard to achieve greatness alone, so he enlisted the help of Mike Byrne (drums), Nicole Fiorentino (bass) and Jeff Schroeder (rhythm guitar). According to the band, the album is largely a collaborative effort, but it’s obvious that Corgan is pulling the strings musically and lyrically. That being said, the new members add a fresh energy to the band, especially to Corgan, who sounds revitalized and enthusiastic. Jimmy Chamberlin and his percussive creativity is sorely missed, but Byrne does a solid job on the kit and nearly fills Chamberlin’s enormous shoes.

The first two tracks of the album serve as a testament to the worth of the new members. “Quasar” is heavy and fast-paced, reminiscent of “Cherub Rock.” It flows well into “Panopticon,” another familiar sounding alt-rock song featuring grandiose drums and a vocal melody that floats above a fuzzy chord progression. These tracks prove that this ensemble can capture the Pumpkins’ ‘90s sound.

This album, however, is beyond customary, heavily distorted, guitar-driven alternative rock. Corgan draws on his electronic and progressive influences as well. His use of keyboards and electronic effects gives the album an intriguing array of fresh sounds. Eerie sustained keyboards provide an excellent build up in “Violet Rays,” which fruitfully combines his electronic and rock influences.

The structures of his songs reveal the scope of his imagination. There are no strict patterns, and often a song will completely switch gears multiple times. Chord-based guitar rock breaks down into an acoustic respite, only to ascend back to full force on the wings of cosmic keyboards and punchy bass in the nine-minute title track, a strong example of their progressive nature. As usual, Corgan is not afraid to experiment with his music or its form. But his boldness can have its drawbacks: The song ends with a tedious two minute guitar solo, as do many other songs on the album.

Perhaps because of his age, Corgan’s lyrics have lost much of their angst, and surprisingly most of the songs are about love. Even on “The Chimera,” one of the heavier tracks, Corgan sings, “So please need me too/What you need is love, stranger.” He has abandoned much of his pessimistic outlook, but has retained his passion. And that’s just it. Oceania is an album that manages to be inventive because Corgan is still passionate about his art and his band.