Smashing Pumpkins – Machina/The Machines of God

Smashing Pumpkins
Machina/The Machines of God

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, or their overly pretentious lead singer Billy Corgan. I’m fairly convinced that 1993’s Siamese Dream is one of the 1990’s classic rock albums, but I’ve had fairly mixed emotions about everything they’ve released since then. 1994’s B-sides compilation Pisces Iscariot has only a scant few songs worth listening to, 1996’s Mellon Collie… fares a bit better, but it can hardly not, being a 20+ song double album. 1998’s Adore was a low point for the band, as Corgan eschewed his talents (glorious, pompous guitar-rock) for derivations into electronica. I was a bit surprised, however, when each of Machina‘s two singles (“The Everlasting Gaze” and “Stand Inside Your Love”) began to grow on me a month before the album was scheduled to be released. So I decided to buy the album when it was released, if to do nothing more than quench my curiosity.

Unlike the Cure’s new release (please see my review of Bloodflowers for a full explanation), Machina actually surprised me, in a good way. By now, everyone knows that Billy Corgan’s ego is capable of killing just about anything he writes, and Machina is just as pretentious as his earlier works (the liner notes contain illustrations and a few words explaining the “story” of Machina). The album is over seventy minutes long, and as you can tell from the aforementioned song titles, Corgan still has his head in the clouds. Fortunately, Corgan managed to delay his career as a techno artist, marking a return to the bombastic stadium-rock that made the Pumpkins worth listening to in the first place.

There are a full fifteen songs on Machina, no filler, and not a single on of them is really terrible. “The Everlasting Gaze” is a rock-stomp, and the heaviest song on the album. “Heavy Metal Machine,” despite its “oh boy” title is another great rock song, going from a metalish riff to a radio chorus. Both “Raindrops + Sunshowers” and “Stand Inside Your Love” are excellently blurred pop songs recalling Mellon Collie’s “1979.” Also, “Age of Innocence” is probably one of the best Pumpkin’s tracks in recent memory, closing the album on an extremely high note.

Despite its aspirations, the album does falter. “The Crying Tree of Mercury” and “Blue Skies Bring Tears” are both boring and slow, and they both should have been B-sides. “Glass and the Ghost Children” clocks in at ten minutes, with out takes of a Corgan interview tossed into the middle. The song searches for new sonic territory, and it doesn’t do too badly, but I definitely could have been shortened. And, as always, Corgan’s nasal voice kills a couple of moments (it could hardly fail too, the man is nearly 40 and [I believe] almost 6’6, and he often sings like a little Catholic schoolgirl). These shortcomings however, don’t kill the album.

Machina, despite the shortcomings, does manage to bring back the rock. Fuzzed out guitars and whiny lyrics recall 1993, when rock music didn’t completely suck. Corgan has managed to write songs that will reconnect him with his audience, perhaps draw a few new fans, and maybe even sell a few records. You can hardly fault him for that. Machina is an enjoyable rock record, pretentiousness and all. Somewhere in the middle of the album’s fourth song, Corgan, with perhaps just a hint of irony, sings “I blow the dust off my guitars.” Well, for what it’s worth, thank you Mr. Corgan.