William Patrick Corgan has done a lot of things since the 2014 release of the last Smashing Pumpkins album Monuments to an Elegy. He opened a Tea Room, got heavily into wrestling and I mean heavily. He also produced a few albums with a credit for Ric Ocasek’s album chief among them. He also voiced his admiration for radio host conspiracy-jock Alex Jones making several appearances on his show and also encountered a shapeshifter, neither of which are connected, but nevertheless happened (allegedly).
Ogilala is Corgan’s second solo album following 2005’s ‘industrial electronic’ album TheFutureEmbrace. This was a direction he had hinted at and experimented with while in the Smashing Pumpkins, but it came across as angry and antagonistic and largely missed the mark.
12 years later it was anyone’s guess what direction William Patrick Corgan was going to go in with this album. The release under his full given name was the first hint. Helmed by Rick Rubin in full on American Recordings mode with the sound created here not dissimilar from those seminal albums recorded by Johnny Cash, which brought his voice and his music to a new audience. Instrumentation on those albums was carefully chosen and used sparingly, but effectively. And that’s the case here with instrumentation throughout the album composed of piano, acoustic guitar and tasteful inoffensive, non-industrial synths. Opening song ‘Zowie’ comes on with plaintive piano followed quickly after by vocals and nothing else. The next thing that strikes you is how good his voice sounds. With the harsh, screechiness that was Corgan’s trademark consigned to the sidelines, he is allowed to sing. It sounds like he has been taking lessons. I don’t think he has ever sounded this smooth or melodic.
The lyrics and song titles of course still retain a certain sense of pretentiousness and inpenetrability with “Put your bones, spots trails of honey conquest, through gails of spotless sunsets boon” from ‘The Spaniards’ a solid example of this. There is also the occasional lyrical clanger, see “Cain isn’t Abel to build a superstar” from opening track ‘Zowie’. But none of that should take away from what Corgan has achieved here.
Former bandmate James Iha turns up on one song, playing guitar on ‘Processional’ marking their first collaboration in years in an appearance that is unheralded (in a good way) and understated.
I have no idea what he is singing about on some of the songs but it doesn’t matter. Here Corgan’s voice is another instrument woven into the rich fabric of this album. Normally with reviews, an artist’s work is judged against their previous ouvre. The closest bedfellow these songs have are the quieter moments on Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, but they are still light years away from what’s presented here. And that is a strong collection of songs, beautifully and delicately recorded, as obtuse as they are direct.
As the American Recordings rebooted, rejuvenated and repackaged Johnny Cash to a wider audience, so should this album achieve the same thing for William Patrick Corgan.