"If you get seasick, I want to know if it's the music," Billy Corgan deadpanned to a small group of friends, family and acquaintances gathered Tuesday evening aboard a yacht floating in Lake Michigan, just off the coast of the singer's native Chicago. The night was billed as the official record release party for the Smashing Pumpkins' new album, Oceania.The singer proceeded to press play on the new record, giving the crowd an intimate listen to his band's first full-length release in half a decade (and first with new drummer Mike Byrne, guitarist Jeff Schroeder and bassist Nicole Fiorentino).
Oceania, which is due next Tuesday and can now be streamed in full on iTunes, is the newest addition to the Pumpkins' ongoing 44-song concept album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Kaleidyscope was first conceived by Corgan in 2009 after he split with original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin following the Pumpkins’ 2007 reunion album, Zeitgeist. In the time since Corgan has recruited a new band (just like the Pumpkins' salad days, the lineup consists of three men and one woman), toured with them for a year, began recording Oceania in January 2011, wrapped the album last October, and then waited. The delay between finishing the album and its upcoming release, he told the crowd, revolved around the business side of things.
Oceania is a 13-track excursion that jump-starts with the "Cherub Rock"-style opener "Quasar," gets ominous midway with "Violet Rays" and mellows out near its conclusion with slower-paced numbers like "Pale Horse" and "Wildflowers." After the audience listened to the album in its entirety, Corgan performed a short solo performance on the ship's top deck. The 20-minute set included spare, sing-along renditions of Pumpkins classics including "Tonight Tonight" and "Luna," as well as one of the band's earliest numbers, "Bleed," that Corgan told the crowd was one of the songs he played at the first Pumpkins gig back in 1987.
Later Corgan, wearing a military-style jacket and his trademark floppy black cap, sat down with Rolling Stone. In addition to his new band, he said, he has a new outlook on both his life and music. "'Some things happened to me in the last four or five years, probably since Zeitgeist, where I've had to come back into a personal place," he explained. "The satisfaction is that I'm still motivated and lucky to be in a good band and be making good music."
Hosting the release party in his hometown – in particular, playing his short set with the city's skyline serving as the backdrop – was especially emotional for Corgan. "To have this all come together in Chicago, on my lake, looking at my city, it's pretty weird, " he said. "It's the good weird, but it's weird."
The overwhelmingly positive fan response to Oceania, Corgan said, has been a welcome change. "It's the most positive the fan base has been since the Nineties," he said. "Literally every album I've made since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – Adore, Machina, the Zwan album, Future Embrace and Zeitgeist – it's like I had to fuckin' hear it – 'It's not this, it's too much that. It's too dark. It's too weird.' This is the first time everyone's like, 'Wow, I like it.'"