by Pat Fox
As part of a re-branding exercise, Billy Corgan is now going by his full name, William Patrick Corgan. No doubt to put distance between himself and The Smashing Pumpkins so his new work can be judged on its own merit (and possibly to put some distance between himself and his past admiration for Alex Jones). Corgan’s last solo album, 2005’s TheFutureEmbrace, was met with lukewarm reviews and I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy it that much. It wasn’t that it was bad, more that it was hollow. In trying to eschew the sound he had built with Pumpkins, Corgan was left with something that was heavy on the electrical style, light on the musical substance. So I was a bit apprehensive of Ogilala, his second studio album (or first, if you count the name change).
The first thing that hits you when listing to Ogilala is the stripped down arrangement. Piano and guitar melodies played by Corgan while he sings with his distinctive vocals style of ever changing pitch and tone. No bass, no drums, just guitar and piano. The second is that Corgan is trying to go in a new direction while trying to keep grounded in his grunge era roots. Starting with the slow tempo piano ballad ‘Zowie’, the album keeps its pulse steady, whether it’s the upbeat ‘The Long Goodbye’ or the building rhythm of ‘Amarinthe’…
And that’s part of the problem.
After a while the songs start to merge together. You can’t tell if one songs ended or if it’s a guitar solo for the track you thought you were listing to. The songs are well crafted and competently arranged but nothing stands out. They blend well because they all follow the same, almost uniform production giving them a similar sound and tone, rather than through a tight album arrangement. Of all the tracks, the only two that really jumped out where ‘Aeronaut’, the album’s release track which despite not hitting me with anything did cause me to begin bopping along to it in rhythm so it’s doing something right, and ‘Archer’ which is – and I hate using this phrase but I can’t think of anything else for an analogy right now – a haunting ballad.
So I found little standing out; nothing bad but nothing mesmerising, and I have to admit I was feeling disappointed. I didn’t want to judge Ogilala by comparing it to Pumpkins albums; I wanted it to stand on its own but when held up to Corgan’s former work it does feel like a huge drop off…
Then something odd happened…
I was out driving, radio was off and I started humming a tune. One of those ones that you can’t remember where you heard it but you’ve got it stuck in your head. The only thing I had listened to in the last 24 hours was Ogilala, so when I got back I put it on. Low and behold I had been humming ‘Half-Life of an Autodidact’, the sixth track of the album.
Ogilala isn’t a fantastic album, not by a long stretch, but it is one that stays with you after you’ve listened to it. There is more of an intimacy to it than past Corgan work, something in the vine of James Taylor in that you can’t imagine hearing these songs at a huge arena concert but you would happily go listen to them at a small 200 venue.
Ogilala is out on October 13th via BMG.