A striking debut by William Patrick Corgan.
Ogilala is the debut album by Chicago-based singer-songwriter William Patrick Corgan, who turned 50 earlier this year. It was recorded in Malibu at legendary music producer Rick Rubin’s studio and bears some of the hallmarks of Rubin’s “elder statesman” albums, like those he recorded with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. But this is Corgan’s first album, so it’s hard to judge how “stripped-down” it is compared to his usual style. It is not an especially austere album, but it has a hushed, twilight quality, like something recorded with candles, incense and turmeric tea brewing in the background.
That said, this is most certainly not massage parlor music. The guitars are beautifully recorded, the singing is front and center and Corgan’s diction is clear: you really feel like he’s singing to you the whole time, which makes it hard not to want to pay attention.
First track “Zowie” opens confidently with ringing piano chords, impassioned vocals and intriguing lyrics: “I foraged ‘neath the darkest deeps,” “I’ve coughed into the sparkling breach.” Corgan’s singing is excellent, especially on the chorus, which is sung in a brave falsetto: “I carry back your love to win.”
The second track, “Processional” features a chiming acoustic guitar punctuated by minimalistic piano. This one has a folk ballad feel, replete with references to the tide, the sun, valleys, fairies, trumpets, Eden, Sodom and “the fountains of the deepest deep.” It has a mystical-pagan feel reminiscent of quieter Genesis moments filtered through Laurel Canyon.
Elsewhere, these musical elements are accompanied by tasteful string arrangements, as on the song “Aeronaut,” which has a bit of an R.E.M. feel with more cosmic lyrical ambitions, and the closer “Archer,” a tune that spins its own quasi-mythology—“The angel strikes beast as any man/ On pilloried fire come out of ash”— while preserving elements of a traditional love song.
(As a sidenote, one cannot fault Corgan’s lyrics for not being ambitious enough. On one song, he rhymes “noblesse oblige” with “fleur-de-lis.” Not bad!)
Corgan has a good ear for melody, which is evident on the especially pretty “Amarinthe,” a Joni Mitchell-like song that would not be out of place on one of her early ‘70s albums.
From there, things get mournful and the lyrics seem to get more willfully esoteric. The Gothic (Southern, that is) “Antietam” features recherché language somewhat at odds with music as emotionally embracing as this. On this song, the listener hears of (“ochre-powdered caste,” “sisters stricken blank,” and a “chaste and tendered mouth spoilt foul”), whereas on “Mandarynne” Corgan declares that “Gaslight ages presume a mortal thief.”
This isn’t a criticism—only an observation that the listener feels pulled in two directions, compelled by the music, occasionally alienated by the lyrics.
Overall, however, this is a very adult album, full of poetic wisdom, one that feels (and sounds) earned. It is also impressively crafted, full of the kinds of musical choices that only a professional songwriter could be in a position to make.
This is all to say that it’s a striking debut by William Patrick Corgan. We look forward to his next move.