Billy Corgan calls "Oceania," the Smashing Pumpkins' first studio album since 2007, "an anti-mid-life crisis album."
Whatever it's called, the new album due out Tuesday represents Corgan's best work since the '90s, when the Pumpkins were among the most successful bands of their time. The band broke up in 2000, and to hear Corgan tell it, he's spent most of the last decade figuring out how to create fresh music out from under the shadow of that legacy without fully letting go of it.
He says that after reuniting with original Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in 2005, he realized that he was holding on to an idea of the band caught between unrealistic expectations (repeating the success and sound of the Pumpkins 1993 breakthrough, "Siamese Dream") and his own nostalgia-loathing intentions.
He's in the midst of writing what he describes as a "spiritual memoir," and it's causing him to "dredge up stuff from the past I wish I had forgotten. This album is basically my way of saying I don't want to carry this stuff anymore. I don't want to carry (original Pumpkins members Chamberlin, James Iha and D'Arcy Wretzky) forward anymore. It's done. I couldn't have made 'Oceania' if I didn't let go of that band."
Chamberlin and Corgan parted ways in 2009, soon after a tumultuous tour that found the singer verbally tussling with his audience. For a 20th anniversary Pumpkins tour, many fans were expecting a greatest-hits retrospective. Corgan instead presented a deep dive into his music, in which the beloved '90s singles were balanced by deep cuts and plenty of new tracks. The often-hostile reaction led him to "blow up the band" so that he could start fresh.
Corgan rebuilt the Pumpkins with young guns: guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne. The imperative was not only to re-energize the audience, but "to reconnect with that part of me that made me want to make music in the first place." In an interview, he described the process:
Q: A few years ago, you said the album was dead, and you begin releasing your music song by song online. What changed your mind?
A: We did a radio tour, one of those b.s. things - if you go play a radio station's party with seven other terrible bands, they'll play your record. We're playing and we're looking out at 18- and 20-year-olds and they don't care. What is this? How do you win this? You don't. We basically sat down and said, 'This is it. This is boring.' So what do we do to actually change this? Only thing that made sense was to make an album. Can you make an album that is so strong that it reignites the flame within you and the audience? Is that even culturally possible? We went to Sedona (a studio in Sedona, Ariz., with longtime producer and engineer Bjorn Thorsrud) for a while to work. It was small steps. I can write songs, I can always write songs. That's been part of the problem. Maybe I write too many songs and put them out loosey goosey. So let's get down to it and challenge ourselves. It takes so much psychic energy to do this. I did this album for a year, 12 hours a day. I understand how it gets tough for people when they reach a certain age and you just don't want to work that hard because it's easier not to. We could've made a lot of money playing the nostalgia shows. I cut that road off. It was do it this way or die.
Q: So you want to get the feeling of 1995 back, but you want it to do it with new music?
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