William Patrick Corgan / Billy Corgan

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Ogilala Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Ever the classic rocker, William Patrick Corgan -- Billy Corgan, for short -- decided the best way to revive his dormant solo career was to unite with Rick Rubin for the kind of record the producer calls his specialty: an austere affair that strips down the singer/songwriter to his essence. By 2017, some 23 years after Rubin patented this formula via Johnny Cash's American Recordings, this move is something of a cliché, but one of Corgan's skills is reinvigorating dusty tropes, and Ogilala belongs in that group. Stately and serious, Ogilala contains none of Corgan's standard tricks -- no symphonies constructed of guitars, no washes of synthesizers -- but it's recognizably his work, a collection of meditative pop tunes and ballads that highlight melody and melancholy in equal measure. By design, the spare production helps focus attention on the song construction, with each of these 11 songs being as precise and tightly wound as clockwork; whenever Rubin gussies up the arrangement with strings, it's an accent, not a distraction. Similarly, Corgan's voice -- which hasn't lost its adenoidal edge even if he's now ensconced in his fifties -- may be prominent but it functions as part of the intricately woven tapestry, helping the music sway and swell. Like the Smashing Pumpkins albums of the 2010s, Ogilala achieves a delicate balance of ambition and craft. At its core, it's a songwriter's album, but it's not a bunch of folky confessionals. No matter the setting, Corgan peddles heartfelt prog rock and here, when his songs are shorn of solos and kept at a human scale, his imagination feels immediate and bracing -- and also a natural way for this once angry young man to ease into middle age.

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