October 5, 2000

Bombastic Billy

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Say what you will about the Smashing Pumpkins, but no one could ever call them predictable. Take their latest CD, for example. Angered by Virgin Records’ refusal to put out a hefty compilation of leftovers from the Machina sessions, Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has decided to bypass the record label.

The result is Machina II, a 5-record box set with a vinyl pressing of only 25 copies, distributed to members of online fan clubs and friends of the band, with explicit instructions to disseminate the music freely online. Thus, the only place this CD is available is over the Internet, via sites like Napster.

The album itself is an audacious, sprawling work that has a very similar overall feel to its predecessor. “Slow Down” opens the set with a heavy roar, punctuated by Jimmy Chamberlain’s energetic drumming. “Vanity,” “Saturnine,” and the James Brown cover “Soul Power” are also powerful hard rockers, none of which would have seemed out of place on the first Machina.

In fact, there are some tracks here, including the glam-rock epic “Lucky 13” and the grungy “Dross,” which would have been welcome replacements for some of the filler on Machina.

The two different versions of “If There Is A God” present a good contrast to each other. The first is a delicate piano-only ballad, while the second is a shimmering, lush pop tune. This song also contains the best Pumpkins lyrics ever, transcending their usual mystical nonsense: “If there is a God/ I know he likes to rock/ He likes his loud guitars.”

However, this album is plagued by the same general problem that has marred every Pumpkins release after the near-perfect Siamese Dream: it’s too long.

It’s clear that a lot of these tracks — including the sloppy remake of “Heavy Metal Machine” — are just leftovers and outtakes, but if that’s the case, the Pumpkins shouldn’t have released them at all. The band has always shown a disturbing tendency to release anything they might have lying around the studio, rather than doing some judicious editing to craft a more succinct and powerful statement.

However, in all fairness, that’s not really the point of this release. This is apparently meant to be the final release from a band that has a more devoted and fanatical fanbase than any other in recent memory. Pumpkins fans will certainly want to scoop up every loose track Billy deigns to put out, before the band disappears for good. Say what you will, but nobody can cause a fuss quite like the Pumpkins.

Really, though, should we have expected these masters of the melodramatic to simply bow out quietly?

Archived article by Ed Howard