Full disclosure: The Smashing Pumpkins were my first bona fide musical obsession. I discovered them through my older brother, who had bought a copy of the then fairly recently released Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I was a mere 11 years old when I first heard it, wet behind ears that had been listening to nothing but Spice Girls, The Lighthouse Family and Texas. It was a beautiful, confounding, terrifying, AWESOME thing. It kicked down a door in my mind. Throughout my teens I amassed every Pumpkins release I could find. Unearthing a copy of their Lull EP in Watford Market was legitimately a highlight of my thirteenth year on earth. I cited Siamese Dream as my Absolute Irreplaceable Favourite Album Of All Time right up until I left home and discovered a little album called Loveless.

As someone who had held Billy Corgan and his Pumpkins so close to their heart for so long, you might think I have found myself conflicted when confronted with Corgan’s shenanigans over the past few years. His eight hour long synthesiser show at his teahouse, his ill-fated foray into the wrestling business, or the sad figure he cut that one time at Disneyland? They are neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been more bothered that he hasn’t released a decent album since 1998 (#TeamAdore). He’s an eccentric, and has himself said that he “reserves the right to be dumb.” Hell, in his time, he was an honest-to-god, capital-R Rock Star. What do we expect from the people we treat as living Gods when they’re in our favour, and like objects of derision when they’re not?

But then, there are the appearances on Alex Jones’ Info Wars


*face palm*

*deep breath*

Ok, you can read all about that stuff somewhere else, I haven’t got the headspace. Trump and May have a monopoly on my outrage. After all, this isn’t a hit-piece. This is an appraisal of Corgan’s latest musical offering, Ogilala. So, let’s get on with it.

If you haven’t heard the album yet, try and imagine what a 2017 Billy Corgan album would sound like, based on his artistic trajectory with the Pumpkins, Zwan, and solo work. Did you picture a mix of Elton John, Nick Drake and R.E.M., with nary a distorted guitar or even a single drum hit in sight? Congratulations, you are officially a clairvoyant! Stop wasting your time here and go forth and make your millions.

Ogilala is certainly a surprising album, but it's also one that's initially difficult to like, let alone love. Corgan’s voice, always divisive, is uncomfortably high in the mix, and its flaws are left deliberately exposed, as when it cracks during the keening high notes of ‘Zowie’. Throughout the album, Corgan sings with confidence, a man at peace with the weakness and weirdness of his voice. It doesn't take a leap of imaginative empathy to see how it could rub people the wrong way. After half a dozen listens through, I made peace with Rubin’s mix and the songs opened up. Whether they do for you depends entirely on your tolerance levels.

Opener ‘Zowie’ is the most skeletal track on here, just Corgan and his somewhat clumsy sounding piano pounding. There’s some equally butterfingered wordplay in the chorus (“Cain isn’t able to build a superstar”), and the melodies hew a little close to MOR, but there’s real passion in the vocal delivery and I have, as with many of the songs on Ogilala, found myself humming the tune, almost despite myself. First single, ‘Aeronaut’, ploughs a similar aesthetic, but Rubin bathes the song in stately strings to beautiful effect. There’s a lovely hop, skip and jump in Corgan’s delivery when he sings “call it ether elemental eye, oh dark nights.” Utter gibberish, of course, but Corgan’s lyrics have often been more about sonics than sense. ‘Mandarynne’ is the third and final piano-led ballad on Ogilala, and is fleshed out where ‘Zowie’, in particular, feels quite demo-like. Corgan’s singing is a little less forceful here and the track benefits from the relative restraint. It’s a pretty song in the vein of the piano ballads off of Adore, albeit lacking the indefinable magic of tracks like ‘Annie Dog’ or ‘Blank Page’.

The remainder of the tracks on Ogilala are led by Corgan’s unfussy acoustic guitar strumming, cycling through well-trodden chord progressions. On ‘Processional’, a single clear-ringing piano note punctuates every bar of the verses, and Corgan’s chorus of “it’s a long way/ it’s a long way to get back home” is one of the album’s many insidious ear worms. Pumpkins legend, James Iha, even drops in to provide some countrified electric guitar on the track’s closing moments. If you took Corgan’s vocals out of the mix, ‘The Spaniards’ would be the first time on the album that you’d identify his work by the instrumental alone. The combination of mellotron with acoustic and electric guitars is unmistakably Corgan-esque. It also takes a turn into countrified R.E.M. territory after the chorus. Speaking of which, unfortunately, the song does feature the most cringe-worthy chorus on the tracklist: “take me as I am,” he wails. For a man who decided to stop calling himself Billy because he’d turned 50, you’d think he’d have grown out of angsty sentiments like that. It does, however, encapsulate the artistic philosophy of Ogilala: this is an album made by Corgan for nobody but himself. It’s a surprisingly humble album that’s not desperate to be adored. It sounds like it’s been made by someone who, by his own admission, doesn’t listen to any contemporary music because he feels so out of place in the cultural landscape.

That mellotron makes another appearance on ‘Half-Life Of An Autodidact’, which ups the energy levels with a faster tempo. It also gets to the heart of what drives Ogilala and makes it sound so different to Corgan’s previous work: namely, his relative happiness. “40 years to finally wake up,” he sings as the guitars come to a sudden standstill, “and nine more to sling the snakes out of view.” Ogilala is Corgan’s first album he’s released since the birth of his son (who, incidentally appears on the album’s cover along with Corgan’s partner), and there’s a sense of contentedness to the album. This comes across particularly in the tracks that sound like they have been inspired by Nick Drake’s seminal Bryter Layter album. Those organ licks on ‘Amarinthe’, and the sumptuous, bordering on schmaltzy, strings and glockenspiel on ‘Shiloh’, sound like classic Drake. These songs sound as comforting as a lazy Sunday afternoon in autumn. It may not be mind-blowing or boundary pushing, but, sometimes, there’s value in music that’s just nice to listen to, right? Of course, there’s a fine line between nice and forgettable and a minor track like ‘The Long Goodbye’, despite looking out to the stars, falls squarely in the latter camp.

That’s not to say there’s isn’t depth or intrigue, or even darkness, here. On ‘Antietam’, Corgan tackles the titular civil war battle, which marked the single bloodiest day in American military history. It almost feels like Corgan’s attempt to re-write R.E.M.’s ‘Swan Swan H’. Interestingly, ‘Shiloh’ is also the name of a civil war battle, but that track’s comparatively lighter tone is more in keeping with the original Hebrew meaning of the word: “place of peace.” The album ends with both its clearest stylistic throwback to Corgan’s Pumpkin-coloured past, as well as its standout cut; ‘Archer’ is a thing of spectral beauty, with much of the credit for its success going to the reverb-drenched, thumb-tack piano that accents the track beautifully and wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Adore’s twilight ballads. Corgan’s singing is also at its most affecting, conveying genuine emotion, even where it’s difficult to parse much tangible meaning from his lyrics.

Ogilala is, simply put, an unassuming album of sparse piano and acoustic guitar ballads, tastefully adorned here and there by a string quartet's contributions, some classic Pumpkins mellotron, and a few snatches of electric guitar. Corgan has nowhere to hide; no walls of overdubbed distorted guitars, no crashing drums to distract the senses. As a result, Ogilala lives and dies by the strength of its songwriting, and while there’s nothing here that even sniffs at the coattails of Corgan’s best work, it is probably the most consistent and least offensively pretentious album he’s put out in, well, nineteen years.