It’s hard for me to admit, but I did not like a single song on the first two Teargarden by Kaleidyscope EPs that kicked off this album-within-an-album that is Oceania. I say it’s difficult to admit because without the Smashing Pumpkins, for me, there would be no music. The first time I saw the clip for 1979 on RAGE back in 1996 was the first time that i really started listening to music and not simply ‘hearing’ it. If that song had not graced my ears I seriously doubt I would have ever ended up at SAE Sydney learning to become an Audio Engineer with dreams of creating and recording music, and I wouldn’t have the currently 600+ artist strong iTunes library and the fire to share those artists with you, the reader.
It has been tough going through the years as a Smashing Pumpkins fan, but i’ve always stuck by, ever interested and excited to see where Billy is going next.
I’ve been able to sit with Oceania for a week or so now, as the band made the full album available to stream on iTunes for free for a week prior to release, and with each listen i find myself enjoying it more and more, which i am very pleased to find (due to the aforementioned not enjoying Songs For A Sailor and The Solstice Bare so much).
Oceania kicks off with a force that holds well for the albums length. There’s never a moment that feels slack or dragged out, like Billy has finally found what he wanted to say in this record and how to say it right or succinctly. In tow are his usual espousals of love, peace and musings of spiritualism, but they never overshadow or feel forced (or poorly written – which is a problem i’ve had with a lot of his post-Machina work), here they finally feel at home.
Also in tow is the guitar. Crisp, intertwining and responsible for the bulk of the force. Yes, you could stress that that’s one facet of the Smashing Pumpkins that has never really been left behind, though while nowhere near as heavy as Zeitgeist, they feel exploratory and liberated, which is more than evident in tracks like Inkless. On Oceania they downright soar.
A noticeable difference on the album is, of course, its Jimmy Chamberlin-less-ness. Apart from the Adore gap, Jimmy’s drumming has been pretty central to the Smashing Pumpkins experience. You can pick Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming from a mile away. It’s signature. Oceania is the first Smashing Pumpkins album with Mike Byrne behind the kit, though he has been performing along side Billy for a number of years now, starting off with the supergroup Spirits In The Sky. With all of this under advisement, Byrne fits this album quite snugly. There’s never really a moment when you start thinking to yourself “i wish Jimmy was here. sadface.”
For those worried about the whole album-within-an-album deal, you need not worry that you may feel short changed some how if you go out and pick it up. Oceania very much plays and feels like a complete package, with a logical start and finish. I’m not going to get all “return to form” about Oceania, the Kevin Smith in me really, really dislikes that entire notion. In my eyes the Smashing Pumpkins have never lost anything that needs any form of returning to, yes, even through the personal disappointment of the two Teargarden EPs. What is here though is a band hitting an obvious stride and enjoying their time together doing something the love.
Standout tracks: Violet Rays, The Chimera, Inkless.