I went to Indiana University, which contrary to popular belief, isn’t just a bunch of people like studying the effects of wind on corn stalks — it actually houses the second-best music school in the nation, to which hordes have been known to flock from all over the world. This obviously had its benefits — endless concerts, awesome reading material and spirited arguments over weed and opium.
The down side, you might say, is that IU, or the college town of Bloomington in general, is the type of place where it’s possible to meet people who actually object to Rick Rubin. And it’s not that these snarling oafs will actually give a REASON for such tomfoolery — in all likelihood they’ll just emit an aimless, ephemeral chuckle and wait ’til the next bong-rip session whereupon their very artificial achievement of having an unusual opinion might carry enough weight to spawn a hookup with a bitter sorority girl with daddy issues.
But I mean, just look at this guy, Rick Rubin. He literally looks like he’s been struck by lightning — frazzled hair, deep, blue eyes, pillaring stare. He looks like the type of guy who knows that a truckload of people out there despise him for no reason. And… here it comes… he looks like he doesn’t quite give two yokles, too. There, I said it.
He’s been pretty busy lately with hip-hop, from what I’ve seen, working the knobs apparently on each of the last two Kanye releases as well as Eminem’s MMLP2 (which I imagine involved quite the pressure cooker to miraculously launch said emcee back to relevance). For Ogilala, according to Drowned in Sound, Billy Corgan “passed demos to producer Rick Rubin and …(expected) to turn up and sing with session players, perhaps creating an accessible alt-country record,” instead seeing the sound man “double… down on the sparse recordings, encouraging Corgan to keep things stripped to his own acoustic guitar and piano playing, with the occasional string section and an appearance by former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha adding some colour.” I happened to listen to Ogilala yesterday, which was a cloudy day on which, for the first time since March, the temperature failed to reach 60 degrees here in Terre Haute, Indiana.
At first, there was an awkwardness about the project once I realized it was acoustic where I wondered, Will these songs be genuine, What type of vocal style will Corgan employ here and will it work, Who is his target audience and other things that someone as old as me can’t help considering after hearing enough really bad music in his life.
Essentially, Ogilala can be explained in terms of two Smashing Pumpkins songs off Mellon Collie — “Galapogos” and “Thirty-Three.” The former is a mediocre song which albeit can act as the stylistic acoustic-slow-build benchmark of what’s going on Ogilala (there is no percussion on this entire album), the latter one of the best songs of the 1990s, the unrealizable ideal Corgan is undoubtedly striving for here with his dour rock soaked in his signature wail of throaty vocal cavalry. It’s an indulgent record, sure. But it’s an absorptive one. Just don’t go putting it on in concurrence with Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” It’s the type of 11-song LP that can be gulped down in what seems like a brief time, the fact of James Iha reunion being far less important than the palpable feeling that this deep, brooding session of chamber rock gives the impression of having been in the works, and having been destined into creation, for some considerable time now.