William Patrick Corgan

Ogilala

BMG

Dec 01, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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When an artist like Billy Corgan releases music, it immediately faces relentless scrutiny. With The Smashing Pumpkins, he released three albums that shaped the sound of an era regarded by today's youth as sacrosanct. Siamese Dream surpassed expectations despite the band's move to a major label. They lost none of what endeared fans to their debut album, Gish, while gaining enormous production quality that escaped the muddied sound surrounding the branded term grunge. Siamese Dream is indebted more to Boston's pristine production where each sound, each nuance mattered.

Corgan is also responsible for the 1990's most pretentious album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Certainly, it is a masterpiece. Enlisting one of the 1980's most coveted producers, Flood, a man responsible for some of the most revered works in rock music's canon, from Depeche Mode to Ministry to New Order to U2. It made perfect sense. Why not employ the man who engineered U2's Joshua Treean incomparable masterpieceto help craft the sound for another anticipated masterpiece? Mellon Collie was Corgan's most prolific era. The B-sides on the album's singles were greater than the A-sides of that era's best albums. Like Joshua Tree, it possesses no equal in mainstream rock.

Fallen to an astonishing level of self-criticism that makes one wonder how, with also an ego the size of Neptune, William Patrick Corgan still makes music, he persisted regardless of self-sabotage. That old burn out/fade away question aptly applies to him more so than Neil Young's reflection on Sex Pistols. Fans of The Smashing Pumpkins embraced his post-Pumpkins supergroup Zwan even if it paled in comparison to his previous works. Likewise, they embraced the hyper-excoriated Zeitgeist (how can those who bemoan the album believe that "Tarantula" is not one of Corgan's greatest compositions?). And the third iteration of the Pumpkins, featuring unknown technical virtuosos aiding Corgan's deepened vision toward epic compositions with a modest nod to prog rock. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he lost fans to his shifting visions; at the same time, he maintained a fan base who were willing to listen beyond "Today" or "Tonight, Tonight."

Unprepared for Ogilala's stripped-bare approach, it should neither shock nor stir those who will follow him through his ostentatious eight-hour musical homage to Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. In fact, Rick Rubin's laissez-faire production chops permits Corgan to showcase the breadth of his compositions. After all, he is one of rock music's most prolific songwriters. Forget the fact that missing are Jimmy Chamberlin's jazz-inspired drums. There are no "Geek U.S.A.'s" or "Oceania's" either. "Zowie," the album's opener, contains a block chord introduction that allows for Corgan to build his humble ode to Ziggy Stardust. It maintains a solemn mood throughout, and the bombast is not missed here. Quiet and sparse, "Processional" builds itself around Biblical allusions: "On trails of Eden, said trumpets blare/This yearling's burden, a priestly air" echoes the sacrifice made by Corgan to not rely on his thickly distorted compositions. Included on the track is Sierra Swan, the one-time bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins whose voice soothes his nasally delivery.

The theme of loneliness pervades each one of Corgan's works, and "Aeronaut" continues his exploration with a twist. Here, the words are pushed to the forefront. He states, "If I'm leaving you without return or snare/Catapulting through time and space/You can call that home, if you wish, or if it's fair/But it's mine to share and share alike," embracing the whole of humanity and the individual's role in it.

"Antietam" does not shy away from Corgan's largely unpopular political perspectives. Alone with his guitar and sparsely played keyboards, "Antietam" serves as a metaphor for taking a stand in a time when unpopular stances are spuriously dismissed. "Somebody has to rise" acts as a refrain of personal commitment to personal convictions.

Will Ogilala become a tiny footnote in Corgan's canon, like Zwan or TheFutureEmbrace? Or, will the understated, but not underwhelming, Ogilala bring awe to a newer, younger audience in the future? Will it be studied with same zeal and vehemence as The Smashing Pumpkins' first three albums? Like Corgan's career, much remains to be seen. Yet, now 50 years old and fighting to remain relevant in the digital seas of microgenres, one can only hope that he does not fade away into obscurity in a time when unpopular voices are needed. (www.ogilala.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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