In 1977, the youth of England allegedly raised their voices in unison, shouting, “No more Beatles, Stones, or Who in 1977!” Keep in mind that those hoary acts were, at the time, only 15 or so years removed from their public debuts. The Smashing Pumpkins have, of course, been part of the musical dialogue since the early 1990’s, when a kid from Aberdeen blew the palace doors of the record industry wide open, allowing all the freaks to walk inside unmolested. By 2001, of course, the Pumpkins had broken up. The young fuck-yous of London in 1977 would have been immensely pleased, I suspect. When Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin made the decision to revive the band and its moniker in 2005 (minus D’arcy and Iha, of course), not many people were paying attention, I suspect. I certainly wasn’t.
The new Smashing Pumpkins released the underwhelming Zeitgeist in 2007 and Chamberlin departed two years later, leaving Mr. Corgan the only remaining original member of the band. At this time Mr. Corgan announced that he and his hired guns were working on a 44-track concept album called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, to be released for free, a song at a time, via the Internet. If you were not aware of this, fear not – your humble critic never heard of it either – hell, I was listening to 808s and Heartbreak on repeat that whole year. For unexplained reasons, the SP have changed their minds and decided now to release a portion of Teargarden by Kaleidyscope in a more traditional manner (i.e., for profit) , called Oceania. Caught up yet?
So how is the damn thing? Well, the short answer is: not bad. Mr. Corgan’s lyrics are still obvious and sentimental but he’s abandoned that whining-screaming thing that I thought ruined many of their better songs, opting instead for a kind of nuanced pop crooning. The album is too damn long, with 13 songs clocking in at just over 60 minutes, but hey – at least it’s not 44 tracks long! The band sounds great, like – and I know I’m going to get it for writing this – a little like Tool if they were into unicorns. Things start off poorly with the first song, “Quasar,” which is all dressed up with nowhere to go in its generic hard rock riffs and dull melodies, but the second track, “Panopticon,” made me take notice, and it’s more representative of the rest of the album: carefully combined guitar and synth timbres, consistent and creative chord progressions, good melodies, and so on. Corgan and friends obviously worked their pale asses off recording these songs, and though there’s nothing here of the caliber of “Today” or the epic “1979,” there’s not a lot of deadwood either. I thought the title track, with its Joy Division-meets-Berlin Trilogy introduction and the soaring guitar pyrotechnics in its finale, was a real standout, and there are gems scattered all through this psychedelic landscape. For some reason the record reminds me of the otherworldly phosphorescent mosses of James Cameron’s Avatar: it’s a very colorful record that uses every crayon in the big box to establish itself. By the end of the album the songs have begun to blur together (too long, remember?) but it doesn’t detract from the highlights. So: nice job, Mr. Corgan. I’ve always had a soft spot for your guitar solos, anyway, but now that you’ve stopped whining, I think maybe we can be friends.