On their ninth album Oceania, The Smashing Pumpkins retune and expand their sound beyond arena-grunge to ever higher pitches of drama.
But wait, let’s reword that to Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins – he’s the last man standing. The Pumpkins are a type of brand name that Corgan, ever the Svengali, draws upon to realize his visions of slacker glory.
His competent and gifted group of musicians (Jeff Schroeder, guitar; ex Veruca Salt Nicole Fiorentino on bass and vocals, and Mike Byrne, drums) serve the songs powerfully, with Fiorentino handling the bass/vox role impressively. Even so, there’s no doubt whose gig this really is from the moment Corgan’s whiny voice intones “wasted along the way” on Quasar.
This track and Panopticon signal a sound shift from the Pumpkins’ trademark wall of distorto guitar to epic keyboards and a clean, jangly bite. The Celestials moves back to a familiar heaviness that recalls moments from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as Corgan barks out proclamations over the pounding riffs and eerie guitar noise. The band revs up its assault on the senses enough to convince you that it’s 1993.
The sound tweaking continues on Violet Rays and One Diamond, One Heart. These are modifications on Corgan’s penchant for balladry and applying a softer touch within the Pumpkins’ repertoire. Here the band uses keyboards in a textural wash and the guitars hook and chime above the drone. The effect is of a daydream; a lull in the storm.
That basically sums up the dynamic of Oceania: light and shade, heart-felt bombast and spacey ballads. Corgan and the band sound comfortable and settled in.
–– Local guitarist Dean Gordon-Smith is a music columnist with The Morning Star. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday.