For God and Corgan: Four Spiritual Allusions on Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Oceania’
A first listen to Billy Corgan and Co.'s "album within an album"
Last month, Rolling Stone reported that Corgan had written about 300 pages of a “spiritual memoir” with the hippie-dippy title God Is Everywhere, From Here to There. And while we figure he doesn’t totally mean “spiritual” in the literal sense — he’s said he will be addressing the child abuse he suffered — it’s hard not to notice all the references to the world’s many religions on Oceania, the Pumpkins’ new album which is streaming on iTunes right now. In fact, the thing that sticks out right from the first lyric of this “album within an album” — other than the fact that, hey, they just posted one hour-long track with no song breaks (Lovesexy, much?) — is the varying spiritual allusions frontman Billy Corgan has snuck, or blatantly put, into many of the songs. We tracked down four such spiritual revelations (including one from the Book of Revelations!):
1. Most of the World’s Religions (and His Mom) Make the Opening Track
After a synth intro and guitar trick, the album begins with “Quasar,” an upbeat number that opens with Corgan singing, “God, ride on / Krishna, ride on / Mom, ride on / Yod, He, Vau, He, let’s ride on.” And as if Judeo-Christianity, Hindi, his mother, and a Hebrew phrase that approximates the father, mother, son and daughter, known as the tetragrammaton, weren’t enough, he later adds the Holy Ghost and “salaam,” the Arabic word for peace, to the mix.
2. A Pale Horse Named Death
The title of Oceania’s eighth song, “Pale Horse,” is named after one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, found in the Bible’s Book of Revelations. In between lyrics that sing to someone who’s “bound by Thorazine,” referring to the schizophrenia medication, Corgan sings, “Please come back, pale horse,” making for one of his more quizzical references.
3. Billy’s Substitute for Sin
At the end of what is Oceania’s hardest rocking, and most retro-sounding Smashing Pumpkins number, “The Chimera,” which is built around a fuzzy, driving riff and some Queen-like guitar harmonies, Corgan sings, “Fairytales of tiny whales / substitutes for sin / It takes a light to find the light within.” Skirting past the title’s namesake androgynous lion-goat-snake creature (found in Homer’s The Iliad), those lyrics are cloistered in Christian metaphors, from Jesus’s death atoning for the world’s sins to finding an inner light. Moreover, that latter phrase, “the light within,” pops up in everything from Christianity to Buddhism. Near the end of the song, he sings, “What you need is love, stranger,” which by itself sounds like something you’d hear either in Godspell or from a Krishna walking down the street.
4. Love Unseen
Finally, in a harder rocking number near the end of the album, “Inkless,” Corgan sings, “There’s no other faith for us, a faith in love unseen,” before backing off for the album’s standout guitar solo. And in the context of what seems like a love song, Billy seems literally ready to forgo all spiritualism for love. We’re just hoping this crisis of confidence, not to mention his other dalliances with spiritualism, will all make much more sense when God Is Everywhere, From Here to There eventually comes out, though, from what he’s said, those first 300 pages he’s written constitute only one third what he intends to write. Heaven above!