Pumpkins a smash on MP3
By Ben Whetsell
For the Daily
On Sept. 8, the Smashing Pumpkins released Machina II: the friends and enemies of modern music in MP3 format over the internet. The brainchild of guitarist/vocalist extraordinaire Billy Corgan, the Smashing Pumpkins announced in May that they would break up at the end of this year after 10 years at the top of the alternative scene.
This album, released on Corgan's own Constantinople Records, is the band's farewell tribute to the fans. A statement from the Smashing Pumpkins Fan Club website describes that Corgan distributed 25 sets of Machina II LPs to close friends and encouraged them to spread the music on the internet.
The new album contains some of the best Pumpkins material to date and easily one-ups Machina: the machines of God, their previous effort. The sound of the album, on the whole, floats somewhere in between the menacing guitars and bluesy vocals of Gish, the Pumpkins's first album, and the fuzzy distortion and reverberating drum treatments of Machina. Compared to the first Machina, it seems as if the Smashing Pumpkins have relaxed their insistence upon art and emotion in favor of the pure joy of rock 'n roll.
The first three tracks showcase the Pumpkins in all of their hard-edged glory. Machina II then segues into the lush chords of "Real Love" and the mellow vocals of guitarist James Iha in "Go." "Let Me Give the World to You," an Adore outtake, features some of Billy Corgan's most moving lyrics, while "Innosence" features an apreggiated piano riff that rivals the "Cheer's" theme for comforting effect.
The album then takes a turn for the heavy before ending in the synthesized ease of the last two tracks. As for the three EPs, the songs are for the most part heavy, slow, and quite good. "Soul Power," a James Brown cover, stands out from the set for its drive; and the minimalist version of "If There Is a God" brings John Lennon's "Imagine" to mind.
The only text that accompanies the album is a plain typed page entitled "ch5/the story of june (so far)," which presents richly suggestive Smashing Pumpkins imagery and thinly veiled references to earlier songs. Besides this text, the album sleeve features dramatic black and white photos of urban scenes, and the album cover itself presents repeating prints of tiny white icons over a black background.
Corgan's unorthodox release method has been extremely successful - the songs have spread over the internet like a wildfire. All the songs are available on Napster; additionally, the Smashing Pumpkins Fan Club website (www.spfc.org) features an extensive list of cyber-Pumpkinheads who have devoted their sites to the distribution of the new music.
Photo courtesy of Virgin Records
Que sera sera, Billy, que sera sera.
Originally on page 10A in the 9-29-2000 issue of the Daily.