The Smashing Pumpkins
Machina II: The Friends & Enemies of Modern MusicBy Ryan Klimczak
In a follow-up to their earlier release of Machina: The Machines of God comes the Smashing Pumpkins’ final album Machina II: The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, a blended mix of both hardcore thrash and smooth melody. It is also the band’s farewell release, as they have announced they are breaking up at the end of the year. In a final “fuck you” to their unappreciative recording label, Virgin Records, the band hand-pressed and hand-numbered twenty-five copies of their album on vinyl to be bootlegged among fans with the intention to disperse it free through MP3 media. Consequently, there will be no CD pressing for this album.
The album consists of twenty-five songs, almost all new, with the exception of a few songs, which have been redone from previous albums. These captivating songs encompass the entire gamut of the Pumpkins’ musical spectrum, from the hardcore approach of old school Smashing Pumpkins to the more electronic side of their late ’90s releases. In many ways, the side-stepped release of this album has encouraged an accurate and unfiltered representation of Corgan’s work, which accounts for the true power of this album.
Songs such as the piano version of “If There is a God” feature some of the best vocals by Corgan, known for his usual scratchy and somewhat shrill voice. The piano melody, accompanying Corgan, is carried in the forefront of the song, which is an unusual, but welcomed approach to the Pumpkins’ music. The second version of the song included in the album uses the whole band with a cryptic, eerie feel. An acoustic guitar plays forcefully in the background with loads of echo and reverberation, which lends a spooky but appealing effect. The album contains many other smoothly flowing and softly vocalized songs such as “Go,” “Real Love,” “Slow Down,” “Innosense,” “Let Me Give the World to You,” and “Home.”
“Real Love,” “Home,” and “Let Me Give the World to You” seem to be a continuation of the romantic rock feel of Machina I’s “Stand By Your Love,” with the same love-saturated lyrics and palpable affection. “Innosense” contains light and optimistic chords coupled with the almost nimble and softly sung whispers of Billy Corgan. When accompanied with a light tambourine and occasional piano chords, this song gives rise to an almost tangible feeling of innocence.
One of the only problems with the album is the poor sound quality due to bad rips from people who lack the proper equipment to record the songs. This effect is most apparent in the song “White Spyder,” which features a fast-moving bass rhythm throughout the track, which is consequently distorted. However, high quality recordings will soon be released -- if they haven’t been already -- for straight download off the Internet.
“Here’s to the Atom Bomb” is a laid-back groove similar to “1979” and other songs from 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. In this song, a simple electronic drum coupled with a carefully hidden acoustic guitar accompanies the voice of Billy Corgan as he murmurs his way down the soft stream of music. An alternate version of “Try, Try, Try,” from Machina I, is also available on Machina II and features a stripped-down mix with a similar melody but different lyrics.
The song “Le Deux Machina” is the album’s only wordless song, featuring an almost harpsichord-like feel with several repeating chords oscillating on the two-minute track. Songs such as “In My Body,” “Lucky 13,” “Saturnine,” “Speed Kills But Beauty Lives,” and “Glass” (alternate version) represent the album’s more cerebral and electronic side, with voice-distorted lyrics and a subdued, psychedelic melody. Both versions of “Glass” in the album feature a distinctive lyrical repetition which lends to a hard-cutting and fast-moving tempo pounding insatiably throughout the song.
Machina II contains its share of hard-core songs, similar to earlier Pumpkins releases such as “Zero” and “Siamese Dream,” with songs such as “Cash Car Star,” “Soul Power,” “White Spyder,” and “Dross.” By far, “Dross” is the epitome of alternative music, with squelching guitar riffs, hard-pounding drumming, and screaming vocals. Lyrically, this song almost seems to represent Corgan’s frustration with today’s musical standards. This is partially the reason for the band’s formal breakup later this year. Apart from wanting to leave the troubles surrounding the band -- including the unsuccessful release of the Adore album in 1999 as well as lead bassist D’Arcy’s leaving the band later that year -- Corgan wants to leave a music industry which, he says, is saturated with “Britneys” and “Frat Rock.”
Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music is one of the best in the Smashing Pumpkins’ collection of albums, a collection created in a decade when alternative music ruled. While this album will be appreciated most by seasoned listeners (the “friends of modern music”), it marks the end of the Pumpkins’ brilliant music career, and the death of alternative music.
For more information about the album or to download songs, visit <http://www.spifc.org>.