Despite Billy Corgan's claims that the Smashing Pumpkins were meant to be a big, famous band, they really weren't meant for the spotlight of the mainstream. Their strange sense of humour, their overall image varying from college rock to glam band, ever changing music styles and Billy's increasingly strange egocentric personality repelled the media. After the massive success of 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
, the band slowly started fading away. And in 2000, like a flickering flame they had become, the Smashing Pumpkins finally went out. Somewhere between the inner turmoil, drug problems and record company bulls
hit, the bright flame that created excellent albums like Siamese Dream
had begun to die, the embers of its mind and heart fading out. What can you do when everything turns to dust? Machina: The Machines of God
is the sound of the Smashing Pumpkins falling apart, but the Pumpkins had come close to falling apart in previous albums. So really, this album is the sound of the Smashing Pumpkins not just falling apart, but of the pieces to repair them falling out of piece. Tensions between long-time friends guitarist James Iha and Corgan kept on building, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky's overall disinterest in the band and an alleged drug addiction, Virgin Records reluctance to let Smashing Pumpkins continue with the Machina
storyline (more on it later), to specify on what I said before.
After the desolate, Eno
, the Pumpkins seemed to have moved away permanently from the alternative rock scene that they had embodied for many years. Machina: The Machines of God
was a return to rock music. But it wasn't the same fuzz packed sonic attack of previous albums. The Pumpkins, who seem to refuse to maintain one kind of sound, reinvented their guitar sound. Most evident of this is the opening track, The Everlasting Gaze
, the grumbling, heavy riff that begins Machina: The Machines of God
is surprisingly straightforward. While encompassing all the heaviness of songs like Bullet with Butterfly Wings
or Cherub Rock
, the sound is rather thin and crunchy like Nu-Metal guitars not creamy and fuzzy like Cherub Rock or a bare caramel chocolate bar that's been under the couch for a while.
So is rock dead like whiny vocalist Billy Corgan said? I guess not, judging by how he made this even after the electronic fiddlings of Adore. But the Smashing Pumpkins didn't ditch the electronic thing completely. That's not necessarily a good thing, on Machina: The Machines of God
the Smashing Pumpkins rely heavily on synthesizers throughout the entire album, using it as a buttress to support the weak monotonous rock songs. A thick drizzle of synth coats This Time
, a self-indulgent (well, it's Billy Corgan) at-first-catchy-but-then-becomes-boring-as-hell-song. Some songs are actually well off with the synth, like Raindrops + Sunshowers
a relaxing song not bothered by heavy guitars. Its driven by drummer Jimmy Chamberlain's cool pulse and a soothing melody, the ambient backdrop shaping the song and not overdoing it like on many other ones. But overall, the synth just sounds like an attempt to embellish the dull songs on Machina: The Machines of God
Let's say all of the Smashing Pumpkins' instruments went on blind dates together. Well those would be pretty awkward dates, even with Mr. Synth there to try to bring the dates closer together. The Smashing Pumpkins have pretty much no chemistry with each other musically on this album. Chamberlain's blasts of jazz-infused manic drumming is non-existent, they might as well just have kept the drum machine from Adore
. Iha and Corgan's usually vibrant partnership of super charged guitar work is gone, now lifeless and overproduced. As for bassist D'Arcy Wretzky, who mysteriously left the band during the recording of Machina: The Machines of God
, her basslines were never interesting in the first place. Stand Inside Your Love
is probably the only song where the band has a breath of life collectively, and is a favourite among Smashing Pumpkins fans. The climactic love song (Billy claims the only one he's ever written) is garnished by epic tom-toms and an elegant E-Bowed guitar, showing the Pumpkins can still rock out if they try.
Beneath all the overproduced crap, I believe there's a concept to this album, right? Well no one knew at first when the album was released, but Billy Corgan had been working on it since 1996. Well no surprise that no one knew, it's extremely hard to figure out on the actual songs alone, the liner notes contain a big chunk of writing to contribute to the story and online more had been posted. Basically the story is about a rock star named Glass and his band The Machines of God and their rise and fall to fame, Glass in the end finds more meaning to life through the many failures he's encountered. Along with him accompany his 'life partner' June (who has a huge story of her background). The Ghost Children are his audience, who worship his every move. Rock is dead, and Glass is the messiah who seems to be its only future... I still don't understand the story fully. One thing's for sure, the whole story is a hazy mirror to Billy Corgan's experiences. The story is so blatantly set to be like the Smashing Pumpkins, it's really pointless to even figure it out. The story only ends in part in Machina: The Machines of God
, and continues even more garbled in Machina 2: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music
, an album released independently in 25 copies of vinyl and distributed online in mp3. Virgin Records had no more interest in the Smashing Pumpkins new direction. It's understandable, because unless someone was a complete Machina
obsessive, chances are he/she never even knew there was a concept. He/she probably simply said "Why do the Pumpkins sound so crappy?"
At 73 minutes, Machina: The Machines of God
definitely starts to tire out at around half way. A lot of crap could've been cut, to put it simply. Asinine songs like Heavy Metal Machine
and the Inploding Voice
lack substance and are dragged on for what seems like an eternity. This record sounds twice as long as the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
. Fairly good melodies are mainly what drive the songs, nothing really stands out. After the ironic half-optimistic-half-pessimistic melancholic tune Try, Try, Try
the album takes a nosedive into complete blandness, the album was actually pretty good before. But like those new Star Wars
movies, it's all flashy effects and no real direction or taste. And indeed, the Smashing Pumpkins fell apart after this album, maybe for the best.
Machina: The Machines of God------------> 2 stars