Album reviews - '90s angst edition

Despite the turning of the page, the '90s are still all the rage. Coincidentally, two of that decade's biggest ragers, Fiona Apple and the Smashing Pumpkins, release new albums this week. One has kept that rage bottled, and like a fine wine, it's uncorked and more heavenly than ever. The other has softened with age and perspective but still rages instrumentally.
The Smashing Pumpkins' Oceania (EMI) suggests a placid lushness with its title, a serenity that has come to Billy Corgan in finding a band lineup that truly lives up to the "band" label. This "album within an album" from the 44-song Teargarden by Kaleidyscope suite sounds much more focused and structured than its piecemeal TBK cousins. Corgan's signature, bleeding-heart whine has mellowed, singing of reverence for celestial bodies and a pantheon of gods. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino adds a Tinkerbell vulnerability to vocal duties ("Wildflower") and spirited drummer Mike Byrne provides a multidimensional gallop to Corgan's rock symphonies (the marathon title track). Old-school fans fearing this new record might suffer from visceral impotence needn't worry: From the get-go, "Quasar" blasts off not unlike the pounding "I Am One" off SP's psychedelic debut, Gish (Virgin/Caroline). A fine addition to a legendary discography.
As for the other petulant personality from the '90s, she's as feisty as ever. Firstly, naming a record The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic) is a brash loogie in the face of conventionalism. (It took seven years to put out this anticipated album - about the same amount of time it takes to recite the title.) And yes, Fiona Apple is still crazy after all these years. She is the firefly in the bell jar that shines most radiantly when she's agitated. There's isn't a lyric in the whole mess that isn't instantly quotable. "Every single night's a fight with my brain," she crows on the staccato first track. The Idler Wheel isn't a record; it's an exorcism of the chanteuse's demons. Truly, it will possess you.

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