Is Oceania a masterpiece? Billy Corgan thinks it could be

Billy Corgan says the Smashing Pumpkins should have focused on making great albums all along. Photo / Richard Robinson
Billy Corgan says the Smashing Pumpkins should have focused on making great albums all along. Photo / Richard Robinson

Billy Corgan had no idea if he was creating a masterpiece or a "complete waste of time" in recording the seventh album by The Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania.

Following a lukewarm response to his band's 2007 effort Zeitgeist, Corgan wrote Oceania as a way of clearing the baggage that has weighed on The Smashing Pumpkins since their '90s post-grunge heyday.

For the first time since the original line up split in 2000, Corgan encouraged replacements - guitarist Jeff Shroeder, drummer Mike Byrne and bassist Nicole Fiorentino - to contribute to the creative process.

Locked away in Corgan's Chicago studio, the band reinvigorated the Pumpkins sound with Oceania's searing guitars and epic songs harking back to the halcyon days of seminal albums Gish and Siamese Dream.

"Only 10 people heard Oceania throughout the whole process so we had no idea if we were writing a masterpiece or a complete waste of time," says Corgan.

"We just put our heads together to make music that we really love in total isolation ... in the modern world you can overthink music too much and I've done that a lot."

Themes of isolation run throughout Oceania, perhaps as relevant to Corgan's tight control of The Smashing Pumpkins as his abrasive relationship with the press, although the singer-songwriter claims his lyrics reach further.

Corgan sees a growing rift developing from "technological overkill" as digitally connected individuals struggle to maintain a sense of identity in the rat race of social media.

"People are all struggling with their identity as they enter a realm where social identity is also part of their relationships," Corgan says.

"You can Skype someone from the other side of the world which brings you closer but also makes you realise how far apart you really are because human needs are still there."

Corgan knows isolation better than most, having fought for almost a decade to get his music played on radio as The Smashing Pumpkins evolved into a one-man band in all but personnel.

He embarked on a 44-song series, Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, originally intended as a rejection of the traditional album format by releasing songs online, but changed tack once he realised no one was listening.

"Whatever we were doing wasn't what our audience wanted to hear but it wasn't a quality issue," he assures.

Corgan has now gone full circle by recording an album he does not want broken up into throwaway singles. Therefore, none will be released.

Oceania is intended as a complete listen in keeping with album mould from the pre-internet age he favours, and if initial reviews are to go by the formula is working.

"When you just decide to go about writing a great album, things happened without thinking," Corgan says.

"Maybe it should've been that way all the time."

The Pumpkins are expected to perform Oceania it its entirety, as well as an encore of hits, during their Vector Arena show in Auckland on August 4.

Smashing Pumpkins
August 4: Vector Arena, Auckland

- AAP

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