Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

(2000) The Smashing Pumpkins – Machina/The Machines of Gods: Anniversary Special

At the turn of the millennia, the star of the undisputed heroes of 1990s teenage-angsty alt-rock, THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, had started to dim. The Gothic electronica adorning their 1998 album, ”Adore,” had proven to be a somewhat faux pas in terms of album sales. The next album, ”Machina/The Machines of Gods,” released on February 29th, 2000, was an attempt to return to form, to the distorted guitar sound of their epochal 1990s hit albums. The album was received with mixed reviews; The Daily Telegraph touted the album as a triumphant return to the band’s grunge-rocking best while Q Magazine’s review did not share such enthusiasm, but instead portrayed the sound as mid-1980s U2 pretending to be THE DOORS. While I have to admit that the album didn’t exactly win me over at the time of its release, in retrospect, it should have been given more credit for its coherent selection of nice alt-tunes. The album is drenched in 1990s alt-rock aesthetics – so, there’s a formidable risk that I’m just speaking with the tremors of nostalgia here too. After all, THE SMASHING PUMPKINS were on the soundtrack of many a 1990s summer for me ever since the 1993 hit, ”Disarm.”

The buzzing guitar riff in ”The Everlasting Gaze,” the first single off the album, is a promising start for the album. It echoes the tight songcraft on the band’s old hits, such as ”Cherub Rock,” ”Zero,” and ”Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” When Billy Corgan sings, ”You know, I’m not dead,” it actually sounds pretty convincing. You get the feeling that, with the release of this album, THE SMASHING PUMPKINS were putting themselves back at the alternative map – even more so with the release of the music video for the next single, ”Stand Inside Your Love.” In the monochrome video, Corgan conducts his band dressed in black leather, pulling off a somewhat Gothic alt-rock Nosferatu act, echoing the visual image of the band’s previous album and the psychological horror film imagery of the 2000 Tarsem Singh film, The Cell. The song is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, underpinning quite nicely the Oscar Wilde quote, which is shown briefly at the beginning of the music video, ”The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.”

The rest of the songs are not peppered with such instant earworm properties but, nevertheless, respect the 1990s alt-rock etiquette piously enough not to be written off as mere filler tracks. Quite a few tracks generate a significantly pleasant buzz in the brain – especially if you have a fondness for that certain 1990s alt-sound. Some of the tracks resonate with the sonic remnants of the ”Adore” sessions, such as the tracks, ”Raindrops + Sunshowers” and ”The Sacred and Profane,” with the addition of the band’s original drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin. This album marked the return of Chamberlin – and I think the vast majority of fans agree with me here; It’s not a matter of opinion, but a cold, hard fact that his signature drumming was as an equally important part of the band’s true essence as Corgan‘s breathy-whiney vocals channeling the soul of a tortured teen. This reunion was not enough to grant them chart-topping success, but it was a nod towards the right direction.

Machina/The Machines of Gods” proved to be neither heavy nor alternative enough for the mainstream rock fans who were obsessing with bands such as KORN and LIMP BIZKIT at the time of the album’s release. It did not sound mean nor psychotic enough for the metalheads. On the other hand, it was too moody for the mainstream dream-poppers. It failed to win new fans over and it sounded so mellow it probably alienated a good number of old fans too. Now, twenty years later, it sounds remarkably good – better than I remembered. The songcraft is so coherent you don’t need to skip a single track. The album is a smooth-flowing stroll down the memory lane into the best sepia-filtered sonic spheres of the 1990s alt-rock. My word of advice: put the record on, you’ll thank me courteously later.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. The Everlasting Gaze
  2. Raindrops + Sunshowers
  3. Stand Inside Your Love
  4. I of the Mourning
  5. The Sacred and Profane
  6. Try, Try, Try
  7. Heavy Metal Machine
  8. This Time
  9. The Imploding Voice
  10. Glass and the Ghost Children
  11. Wound
  12. The Crying Tree of Mercury
  13. With Every Light
  14. Blue Skies Bring Tears
  15. Age of Innocence

Lineup

Billy Corgan – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards

James Iha – Guitar, Bass

D’arcy Wretzky – Bass

Jimmy Chamberlin – Drums

Label

Virgin Records

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