Smashing Pumpkins: MACHINA/The Machines of God

Smashing Pumpkins
MACHINA/The Machines of God


LIKE THOSE INTRUSIVE "gods from machines" that careened earthward from cranes to flaunt their weighty fabulousness in Greek drama, petulant bugbear Billy Corgan swoops uninvited back into our narrative to provide sham catharsis. Reliably, his paradoxes remain uncompelling--thus exposing our deepest collective neurosis: Here I am in excruciating pain, and it's not even interesting! And unfortunately, there's still nobody who distills sour grapes into epic whines quite like him.

You know now by media osmosis that this Pumpkins record is "dark." You mean Tool with hooks? Nah, more like Seven and the Ragged Tiger as staged by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with carefully scored tube screams from the pit. The compressed ferocity of the opener, "The Everlasting Gaze," whips up a monsoon in a wave pool. But as the stage-hogging phantom of his own opera, Corgan triumphantly renews the trademark on his one-of-a-kind riffs, and the first five songs on Machina are up there with the best he's ever done.

As usual, Corgan takes care of business while commodifying the pain of those less decisive (his career-long will-to-power shows he's just slumming with the lowly denizens of "hesitation row" that he serenades here). In "I of the Mourning," he pleads, "What is it you want? What is it you want to change?" though Corgan, as micromaniacal manager, has embraced a bit of corporate restructuring, handily dispatching original bassist D'Arcy and enlisting Hole hottie Melissa auf der Maur for the Pumpkins' 2000 summer-stock circuit.

Though the record is billed as a hard-comer, rehired basher Jim Chamberlain's attack-rawk thwappings are a bore compared to his more winning Stewart Copeland impression. The paroxysmal "Raindrops" is the kind of maudlin, metronomic Police-style new wave so dear to folks like 12 Rods, while "Wound" has all the shallow urgency of solo Stevie Nicks. (Themes aside, I always wondered why Corgan covered "Landslide" instead of "The Edge of Seventeen" anyway.)

The flaws are no big surprise: Corgan's voice remains as grating as his lyrics are wussy. "With Every Light" reads (and sounds) like Big Bird's spotlight Ice Capades ballad: "Every light I've found/Is every light that's shining down." And his blurring of "only love" into "all alone" can't hold a candle to sainted Kurt's "enemy/memory" jumble. Then again, conflating the latter can be lethal, and Billy Corgan is here to stay.

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