Grunge-Rock Pioneer Strips Down The Sound on His New Album, Ogilala
Billy Corgan is one of the most influential voices in alternative rock. He first rose to fame in the early ’90s as the frontman and primary songwriter of The Smashing Pumpkins, whose massive sound combined with Corgan’s unmistakable lyrics sold millions of records. After the original group’s breakup in 2000, Corgan reformed the band with a variety of rotating musicians, with Jimmy Chamberlin being the only other founding member who returned.
Outside of his work with the famed band, Corgan dabbled in professional wrestling and even opened a teahouse in Highland Park, Illinois (a suburb of his native Chicago). He first tried a solo career back in 2005, releasing TheFutureEmbrace, which strayed from the Pumpkins’ traditional rock instrumentation in favor of a distorted electronic sound. Now in 2017, having just turned 50, he has released a brand new solo album titled Ogilala, under his full name, William Patrick Corgan.
The extreme shift in sound is one of the most apparent aspects of the album. With both The Smashing Pumpkins and his first solo album, Corgan relied heavily on a distorted, layered sound, stacking massive walls of guitars and keyboards. But on Ogilala, he scraps all the noise in favor of unplugged instruments. Corgan’s unique vocals are accompanied by only a piano and/or an acoustic guitar, with strings popping up here and there. There’s no distortion, no reverb, no guitar solos, no bass, and even no percussion.
There are no musical weak links on the album, but there are a few unquestioned standouts. One of which is the narrative “Processional,” which marks Corgan’s first collaboration with original Pumpkins guitarist James Iha since the band’s original breakup. Synthesizers make an appearance to the party on ‘The Spaniards,” the only true example of that bigger sound Corgan was previously known for. The best two tracks, however, are the slightly whimsical lead single “Aeronaut,” and the Civil-War themed, 6/8 ditty “Antietam,” named after the War Between The States’ bloodiest battle.
A lot of the songs’ lyrical content revolves around love, and more simple concepts as opposed to the raspy angst of the old days. However, Corgan does a fantastic job of injecting his soul into bare-bones arrangements, and while Pumpkins fans may be surprised by his new direction, there’s no denying he’s done it well.