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Smashing Pumpkins – Machina II

November 17, 2006

Considering the Pumpkins could have damn well just charged us for their last album, or even not have released anything, there is really no reason to complain about the bands final release, Machina II. It would be a bit inappropriate to call it an album though. As far as hard copies go, Machina II is actually a series of four vinyl albums released in extremely low number. Originally, the copies were given to only close personal friends of the band, but after a little thinking, the band simply decided to give all of the tracks away free on the internet, I believe at first on the website of the Metro, where the band played their final show (unless I’m hallucinating. If I am, let me know), and file-sharing was encouraged. The remnants of the band (really everyone except D’arcy) toured with the material on the vinyl, and I guess the rest was history. As far as style goes, the band has only changed so much since the Machina/The Machines of God era, but what modifications to style have been made are only good. The organization may be a little shakey, but hell, considering it didn’t cost fans a dime and the material is great, this was more than a proper send-off for the pumpkins.

First off, don’t even think about acquiring any of the original vinyl. Very few were made, and those that were made are now collectors items. If you are going to acquire this material, it will almost certainly be off of the internet. BUT DONT FRET! I’m not trying to encourage file sharing. But if the band was nice enough to let it circulate freely on the internet, there really isn’t much more that could be said against this kind of acquisition. The problem is, though, when there isn’t much of an official release to go off of, sound quality can get to be an issue. The first issue of the music on the internet was sped up a bit, which isn’t good, and then there are places where the sound quality isn’t as good, etc. I won’t refer you to anywhere, but do some research before you make a download. It will save you some grief.

At any rate, the music comprises of three EPs and one LP. Although most of the material is original, there are some alternate versions thrown in, bonuses or scraps, if you will, which are of course appreciated by the fact that they come from the band alone, and no less for free (and who doesn’t like free songs?). The remixes are mostly disposable though, and only the alternate version of Heres To The Atom Bomb that closes the LP is really great. It’s an interesting way to finish off the bands final release. In a way, it is an appropriately emotional and special track, but not sad by any means. More curious than anything, the track ends on more of a warm note, like there is still more to come. Like a coda, in a way, referring back to everything else. But beyond that, the other remixes and alternate versions of Machina/The Machines of God songs are tracks that even hardcore fans will only listen to a few times.

It could be said that the new material is a fair bit more raw. It’s pretty goddam obvious that Machina/The Machines of God was the bands worst album. It had a fair amount of great songs, but at the same time it faltered due to it’s gothic tinge and wave of self-importance. Machina II keeps the sophistication of the sound and changes the songwriting, keeping the tunes more warm and beautiful rather than tragic and stressed. You can now hear washes of electronic metallic guitar drenching the songs in beauty, but not in any pervasive way. Unless, of course, you don’t crank this at high volumes. If you don’t, the vocals seem a bit drowned. But when you are a band that isn’t under contract, production may be a bit of an issue. Which isn’t to say the production is even bad, but simply not up to par with the bands other work. It would be unfair to not note that most of these songs are almost built for nighttime, in an urban setting too, because it seems pretty stressed from some of the later tracks that this album is an embracement of urban culture.

There are some short rockers, which provide the steel edge needed to get the listeners adrenaline flowing. The strangely named Cash Car Star is the band simply making a punk/metal song with more attitude than morose detailing or anything that grasped The Everlasting Gaze. Glass Theme is almost fun. No, it IS fun. It’s totally got a punk rock attitude, and it completely sheds the pained attitude and lyrics for a more playful and hard hitting theme, as exemplified by the lyric “I’ll be by the pool,” and “Everybody knows I’m fast/I’m fast.” And then there is the explosive rendition of Jame’s Brown’s ‘Soul Power’ which damn well might knock listeners of their seats in order to make them rock out. These three tracks almost pose as landmarks on the album. They are all fast, fun, and completely drenched in adrenaline.

But all of the tracks on this album, like the album itself, are surprising treats. James Iha even has one of his numbers included, the sparkling and endlessly beautiful Go. It might just be the best thing that Iha has contributed to the bands body of work, which is truly saying something because The Boy is damn well a top ten track. Then there are other little bits and pieces like the interesting synth bit Le Deux Machina and alternate versions of Cash Car Star and Glass Theme. But the truth of the matter is, the album holds many of the bands finest moments in original material. Vanity could be easily considered one of the bands best, and Real Love, also included on the bands Greatest Hits compilation, is a true knockout, almost screaming single at the top of it’s lungs. Real Love would have been a perfect closing track, but that would just be too depressing and if there is one thing that the Pumpkins don’t want to do with this album, it’s depress the listener. The first Machina got all the sappy stuff out of the way; this is an ass kicker with a lot to say.

Most everything here is able to be appreciated. You just have to work at it sometimes. White Spyder is an example of taking production a tad too far… The melody and chords are completely drowned in a metallic fuzz, and this could have easily been toned down for a greater effect. Inossence is almost discouragingly simple, and needs to be given second and third chances to truly understand. But for every fault there are twice as many victories. The pretty Let Me Give My World To You is a true winner, as is Saturnine and Slow Dawn. The majority of the album is spent in lazy but appreciable soaring songs as opposed to the pained struggle of the collections predecessor.

I could really go on about this, but to be honest, it’s not necessary. Theres no reason to not have this ‘album,’ especially if you are a fan. But this isn’t something to introduce to a new listener, as it is very much the tail end of the bands career and not exactly an easy intro. But it keeps on growing on you. It’s damn well better than Machina/The Machines of God, and just as good as the likes of Gish or Pisces Iscariot (albeit in a completely different and almost uncomparable way). The songs say everything that the first Machina was sort of nudging at, but that album almost seemed like a task, and a bit forced into the direction of a ‘sendoff’ album. These songs, however, are fun and happy more often than not, and if you can look at this as ‘Machina II’ and not just ‘the Pumpkins last album,’ then suddenly the mood is much more to be heard. And as if this wasn’t enough, it’s free. What are you waiting for?

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