In a musical landscape dominated by singles that average, at best, three minutes, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan wants 60 minutes of your time.
Well, 60 minutes and 12 seconds to be precise.
That's the length of “Oceania,” the ninth Pumpkins studio record, which comes out Tuesday, June 19.
Corgan, who grew up in Glendale Heights, insists it is meant to be heard as a full album, from start to finish.
To make sure that happens, Corgan said, “you have to create something that's worthy of a full listen.”
“We as a band actually think there's a narrative quality to the whole album and so far, from what we hear from fans, they are picking up on that.”
“Oceania” is billed as an “album within an album,” part of Corgan's ongoing 44-song project Teargarden By Kaleidyscope.
The band began by releasing nine songs one by one, free via the Internet, starting in 2009.
But with “Oceania,” the Pumpkins have gone back to the album format, something that Corgan seems bent on embracing.
“If the album's gonna sell, it's because people like the album,” he said. “One song's not gonna get it done.”
Despite that, he admits he's been eyeing “The Celestials” as a single. It's a dreamy acoustic ballad with a touch of synthesizer that hearkens back to the old days of Gish. It's also the most accessible the band has been in years.
“Oceania” may still be steeped in the electronica that's marked the band's past few releases, but longtime Pumpkins fans will notice a subtle shift,
The album features a retooled Pumpkins lineup (Corgan is the only original member) of drummer Mike Byrne, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and guitarist Jeff Schroeder. It starts fast and furious, with the one-two punch of “Quasars” and “Panopticon.”
But then there's a move back to the big guitars, scorching drums and epic arrangements that were the hallmarks of “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”
Tracks such as “Pinwheels” and “The Chimera” showcase the fuzzy guitar sound that made the Pumpkins famous.
“Pinwheels” especially features a gorgeous background harmony by Fiorentino that swells with emotion and is one of the album's most beautiful moments.
Yet Corgan said “Oceania” is not a step back, but a move forward.
“My personal opinion is that it embraces everything I've stuck my foot in,” he said. “The common thing I've heard is it reminds them of Smashing Pumpkins, but it sounds different. That's the best compliment. It's a balance. We've broken through and found new territory to operate in.”
“Oceania” is rife with spiritual references. The opening track “Quasar” invokes God, Krishna and one of Corgan's good friends who died last year. “Pale Horse” references one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as Corgan wails of someone bound by Thorazine, the schizophrenia medication.
But by the time “Oceania” winds down, love seems to emerge as the strongest force, maybe even stronger than spirituality.
“There's no other faith for us, a faith in love unseen,” Corgan sings on “Inkless,” one of the closing tracks.
“I was definitely going through a lot of relationship stuff during the writing period that seemed to symbolically work its way in,” Corgan said. “I rarely write something that doesn't have a real story behind it.”
All of “Oceania” was recorded at Corgan's Chicago studio, and though Corgan claims he sometimes doesn't recognize his hometown full of “Starbucks people,” he can't deny the city's influence on his work.
“I'm a lot calmer when I'm home,” Corgan said. “Some of the best music I've made has been in Chicago. I think there's something to that.”
Maybe that's why he's working on giving back to the city in small ways. Corgan seems most animated when he's talking about two ventures that don't revolve around music. One is a tea house that's set to open soon in Highland Park that will serve as an artistic space.
“It's really just an excuse to have a social space for artists,” Corgan said. “There's really not much up here for people to do who are cool and have some depth to them.”
He's also excited about his wrestling company, Resistance Pro, which he founded with two brothers from the South Side, Jacques and Gabe Baron. They've got a show tonight at Excalibur in Chicago and are working on shopping around a reality TV series that's in the “packaging phase.”
But there's still a fall tour to plan. one where he and the band are dedicated to playing “Oceania” from start to finish, along with other Pumpkins hits.
“Usually we'd tour right on top of the record,” Corgan said. “This time we're going to let the album sit for a bit and see what the response is.”
It is, in a sense, another way of ensuring listeners' involvement.
“It's a risky thing, but we're committed to it.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.