Billy Corgan was always the antagonist of the mainstream 'grunge' scene. None of the other players really seemed to like him very much or at best - like Courtney Love - developed a troubled love/hate relationship with him. Of his contemporaries, still recording and releasing music at the same level as they did back in their heyday, few have managed to maintain the same momentum, the same ethos or the same sound that they once had (Sonic Youth, you're off the hook).
Dave Grohl escaped the tragedy of Nirvana's demise with a solid career of stadium-friendly rock, Courtney Love managed to make an entire generation of forward-thinking women hold their heads in their hands with despair as she side-lined music for the sake of becoming an unruly spectacle, Mudhoney were resurrected in a shower of doe-eyed nostalgia. This is, of course, a disgracefully brief synopsis of tabloid grunge. But what of Billy Corgan and his associates? Well, many of them disassociated themselves from him, for a start. Jeff Schroeder is the longest-standing member of the current incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins - he's been in the band since 2007. Jimmy, D'Arcy, Melissa and James are all long gone.
Though Corgan has stressed that all the band's members contributed to the album, you can't help but feel that he is essentially sailing this ship alone and the wind seems to have gone out of his sails somewhat. Love them or hate them, there was an undeniable fire in the belly of Smashing Pumpkins; they always appeared to be fuelled by dissatisfaction, frustration, railing against demons, internal and external to themselves. Where once he sang "despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage," Corgan now sings meekly (on 'Panopticon') "there's a sun that shines in me." It's uninspired and there is little here that hits home. Songs like 'Chimera' seem to be headed, in a fairly determined fashion, for the same area, smack bang in the middle of the road that was once occupied by Stereophonics. Just, maybe, with less chance of getting on the radio.
The closest that Smashing Pumpkins circa 2012 come to harnessing any of the energy, or combustion that Corgan's former troupe had, back in the days before your 'Loser' t-shirt turned grey and you swapped your flannel shirt for a pinstripe, is the penultimate track 'Inkless.' With its unerringly positive (if flaccid) refrain of "the stars are out tonight," you get a glimpse of those moments that Corgan seemed to have the ability to distill an entire planet into a song. It is, however, a large leap away from having anything like the power to emote that Corgan's fans know that he is capable of. Whether or not it's a personnel issue, or the fire has simply gone out, 'Oceania' is troubled by its own weakness and lack of potency or direction.
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