The Jakarta Post
Ogilala, the second solo record from Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan brings the focus back to the music instead of the drama. (Martha's Music, Reprise, BMG/File)
Ogilala, the second solo record from Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan brings the focus back to the music instead of the drama.
Released under the moniker WPC — short for William Patrick Corgan, his birth name — the album presents only Corgan’s voice alongside acoustic guitars, pianos and some light strings.
The record, produced by the famed Rick Rubin, feels confident in itself, putting forth the songwriting instead of any overarching concept or externally-driven ambition.
It doesn’t reach the raw emotionality of its creator’s artistic heyday, but it succeeds in shedding the weight of the past; utilizing instead Corgan’s current life, including the birth of his first child, to create a much-needed new perspective.
It has, of course, been a confusing time to be a Pumpkins fan. Ever since the band reunited in 2007 with only two of its original members — Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain — the Pumpkins perspective has shifted into the Corgan perspective.
While the 50-year old musician has always held a tight-grip over the band since its formation in the late 80s, his post-reunion stance has often veered between antagonistic (toward fans, the state of music, his fellow musicians, supposed “SJWs” a.k.a. Social Justice Warriors) to artsy/passionate (playing hours of improvised music on classic synthesizers, involving himself professionally in the pro-wrestling world, openly self-reflecting in interviews).
It became taxing to enjoy the music as it came with all the emotional baggage Corgan had spewed over the years.
None of those things are odd for a rock star of course, but it shows how little of the discussion around Corgan has involved his actual musical output.
Sure, the three records released post-reunion gained some sort of momentum up to their release. But that quickly faded away. The last Smashing Pumpkins record (2014’s Monuments to an Elegy) wasn’t even released in Indonesia, a country that in the past was certainly not lacking in alt-rock fandom.
The individual songs on Ogilala are particularly mind blowing. But as an album, they feel like a solid whole, consistent in a way that a Corgan/Pumpkins release hasn’t felt in a long while.
They also don’t sound conventionally modern singer-songwriter-like; meaning that the songs don’t revel in the aesthetics of feeling “intimate.” Nor are they delivered in hushed tones and with a theatrical sense of internalizing emotions.
Instead, they are almost joyful, with celebratory-strumming and unreserved singing, some reminiscent of 1960s folk music. It’s inviting in a way few other Corgan tracks have sounded.
Some songs do stand out more than others. “The Processional” is immediate — with guitars, piano, and subtle strings as back up. It almost sounds like an acoustic version of a rockier song, with melodic verses and pre-choruses that lead onto a memorable refrain “It’s a long way to get back home.”
“Aeronaut” serves up a more melancholy moment, but aside from its rather generic arrangements, is equally powerful — with the kind of bittersweet melodic turns that are characteristically Corgan (though Corgan has got to stop using “lover” as placeholder for subjects).
Similarly, “Half-Life of an Autodidact” feels refreshing, with that aforementioned 60s folk feel. Vibrant and filled with an elating chorus of longing, the song is one of the album’s strongest. “40 years to finally wake up/a 9 more to sling the snakes out of you” Corgan delivers, evoking a fitting nuance of victory that may be abstract but feels nicely profound, if only to himself.
Unfortunately, Corgan continues to utilize his “new” trained voice. More than a few hints of vibrato make their way onto the songs, sucking out a lot of the textural emotionality that was prevalent in his best songs.
While this new technique is understandable (Corgan’s old ways of singing would eventually destroy his voice), they create a distancing sense of intellectualizing that the songwriting itself doesn’t suggest.
The nasal tonality of Corgan’s old vocals may have been an acquired taste (then again, the band did sell millions of records), but it very strongly expressed a wide variety of emotions.
While those old feelings may have had more to do with the darker side of Corgan’s heart, it certainly would be fulfilling to hear that weight within these new, more “positive” songs such as “The Spaniards,” where a lovely melody finds Corgan humming a content plea of “Take me as I am.”
“Archer” closes the album, and is where hints of that old Corgan voice pop up. And what a reminder of its textural value it is. The song is perhaps the most inward-looking moment on the album, but it fits in with the album’s sense of self; Corgan’s voice crackling as he hits those lower notes and even as he moves onto more energetic moments.
Ogilala is contextually one of Corgan’s best releases in the past 10 years. It’s not perfect and the songs are far from the best Corgan has written in the past. But it offers a believably new Corgan perspective. There’s nary a hint of bitterness here, and that’s refreshing. It may not be a great album in and of itself, but it is a great later-years-organ record.