Posts Tagged ‘smashing pumpkins’

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Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist

July 13, 2007

Having waited for this album for so long, I find it completely necessary to give it a thorough review, no more, no less. I’m not going to meander for set amount of long winded paragraphs or give it just two cents and leave it be. I remember looking at the website that was billycorgan.com for so long, when it was just a shriveled remnant of what was left of the artistic endeavors of our said celebrity himself. And then I remember reading the add in the newspaper straight from Billy Corgan, about reforming the band. This excited me on many levels. Possibly my favorite band reuniting, with the hopes of a new album and tour? Wonderful. I joked to myself, that I would be sitting by my computer monitor for years, as the seasons reeled outside my window. What is most unfortunate is that this actually happened. I figured it would be worth it in the end, to finally hear this album. What severely disappointed me was the absence of James Iha and D’arcy Wretsky in the group, who were replaced by…I don’t know, faceless pawns. I still held onto some hope that this album would truly be good in the end and justify all the pain and anxiety that preceded it.

Alas, my friends, I am at the pinnacle of disappointment. While this album should have kicked ass to hell and back, it just doesn’t cut it. The clues all add up. The fact that James and D’arcy are gone were the death spell, for sure, and this album has none of the spirit that the original lineup had. It proves that Billy and Jimmy are not all that is required to be the Smashing Pumpkins, and only half of the puzzle just doesn’t cut it. Another discouraging clue was the album cover, which is just as cheesy as most of the music has ended up being. Which is the albums problem. About half of it sucks horribly because it tries to be revelatory and meaningful. Not that previous Pumpkins albums weren’t, but none of them preached anything. Personal sentimental value came with the previous albums, and this is packaged with nothing but poor production. It just doesn’t sound right. The guitars are too buzzed over, and in no way beautiful like they used to be. And Billy’s voice sounds almost timid despite the fact that he is screaming. This is a generic album. Freeze-dried. And it feels just about as personal as The Future Embrace. And we all know how…goddamn impersonal that album was.

I don’t want to make it sound like this album does nothing right. To be fair, the first five songs are killer. Tarantula is a decent single, but unfortunately the weakest out of the albums good songs. In any case, it was probably worth it just for the awesome timing of the cover of the single, which is a scantily dressed Paris Hilton. You all know what happened a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty much the most ridiculous situation our fair nation has seen. Paris Hilton gets let out of jail for a day and you would have thought that some building blew up or the president was shot at. What felt like every channel on TV had faint blurred photos of Paris Hilton and rumors abash the screen. Paris Hilton is not a national crisis. This is probably part of what Zeitgeist is trying to say. Something about how impersonal our nation is, or has been since 9/11, or maybe just how downright ridiculous the country is now, or at least the people in it. The day that Mudhoney got political, people thought the world was going to spiral out into the endless abyss, but they had no idea that someday, for gods sake, the Smashing Pumpkins would get political. In any case, the first five songs are great. 7 Shades of Black is a great, almost dirty metal riff-fest, and a personal favorite. The rest are all more than great and probably could have stood as singles. But everything from track six onward is, in a word, cheesy. Billy Corgan seems to have forgotten that on his last release, he had a song that unnecessarily ended with a “z.” Starz is not the only song that has a dull and generic hook that just doesn’t really stand tall at all. Even the albums attempt at an SMP epic is flubbed pretty badly with United States. The rest are simply not worth mentioning. Except maybe for Neverlost and one other one, maybe. It’s a bad, horribly shaky album.

For those of you who skipped to this last paragraph to see how I felt about the album in short, the bottom line is, Billy Corgan has lost his edge. It makes sense though. When I think about it, the Pumpkins albums have actually gotten progressively worse through time, the only exception being Machina II which was probably better than Machina. Which really means nothing considering the first four were all so utterly fantastic that they could only be chosen between from personal preference. Using the word “worse” in their wake is a bit of a crime. Machina is the only one that stuck out like a sore thumb, because it was marginally worse than it’s predecessors. To put it plainly, when you listen to Zeitgeist, you will start to realize how great Machina is. And I mean that, sincerely. I can’t stress enough how good the first five songs are. But they really just played their best cards first. Everything else is graced only by scattered quality. The theme is tired. It’s poorly produced. It’s really only worth it to fans. Insert witty aphorism here.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Gish

June 4, 2007

When I spontaneously created a Top Fifty Albums list on my RYM a couple of weeks ago, I had no reason for Gish being so close to the top except for the fact that it just seemed right at the time. I guess I was simply looking at all of the albums I had given five stars and this just stuck out. When I take a good look from the outside, I would probably say that Gish doesn’t have as strong a set as Siamese Dream. And maybe it doesn’t and my opinion has changed in the past few weeks, but there is no doubt that I adore this album. The question is, why? I don’t even think I could have answered this question until I gave it another spin the other day. I don’t think I have ever had this bizarre of a love for an album. I find myself constantly gravitated to it and have listened to it more times than my memory cares to recall, a number that can only be described as obscene. And yet I still have a bit of trouble recalling what the riffs or tunes in some songs are. And it really only had two songs that could ever be described as radio material, and maybe Siamese Dream’s unfathomable myriad of radio hits makes it pale, but at the same time Gish just feels more loveable and has no weak moments whenever I play through it. A lot of times I feel there is this kind of silent offward nod of approval from my tastes to this album. It’s not an album I rave over, not even comparable to how much I talk about albums I love marginally less. So why is it that I can only shrug and give it a thumbs up when I see it at number two on my list? I guess I just felt like there was some unseen, irresistible dynamic to it. It’s something that I didn’t feel good not knowing.

When I was rating all my albums, I got to Gish and immediately gave it five stars, along with Siamese Dream. I just felt like this was my favorite of the bunch. Siamese Dream probably has better songwriting in the end, but only to a certain extent considering both albums are totally tight. But I have always had a serious, undeniable problem with Siamese Dream that I am still having trouble getting over years after I first heard it. That is, I’m not quite sure I always like the sound of the guitars. The riffing is simply awesome, but the actual sound and production of the guitars is very fuzzy and jagged, and while it does act like the buzzsaw bayonet to the weapon that is the Smashing Pumpkins, I have just had a very hard time getting over it. This can only be alleviated by cranking the album to extremely high volumes. When Siamese dream floats gently into it’s more acoustic or organic sounds, the guitars sound wonderful, and the songwriting more than makes up for it anyway, but on Gish all the guitars immediately stick out and gloss over beautifully. And as far as strength of songs goes, Siamese Dream produced a myriad of wonderful radio hits and unforgettable hooks. Gish, on the other hand, took the route of very cool but ultimately less memorable riffs and hooks that don’t wear themselves out. The definition of this album is cool and chill, and perhaps the less distinctive and easy hooks are what makes this album feel new upon repeated listens. And it really does. Siamese Dream is an album I have listened and whored to my ears so much that I tired it out, but having listened to Gish just as many times, it still feels new.

For individual songs, Gish actually has a pretty big myriad of types of tunes on it. The album only repeats itself twice, and in good ways too. The trio of upbeat but ultimately chilled riff rockers, I Am One, Bury Me, and Tristessa, is staggeringly good. All three songs start up with a really muscular rhythm section and particularly good basslines, and develop themselves with shiny guitars and heavy riffs. The opening I Am One is the one of the bunch that stands out the most though, perhaps because it is the first song on the Pumpkins first album. But even then, it’s quality is undeniable. About halfway through the song, something unforgettable happens, and a crazy awesome guitar solo starts up only to be accompanied by another of equal quality, and both snake around one another for a long time. Then, the only the bassline remains, thumping along at a steady pace, when both guitars come in again and rekindle the mayhem with an explosion of sound. This is only one of the many memorable moments on the albums more upbeat rocking half. Another would be the entirety of the song that is Siva, a long, progressive foray that reels through numerous variations of the same riff. When the band quiets down and does a very subdued variation on the verse and then fades into silence. Which then angrily explodes back into the chorus. A monumental moment.

And interestingly enough, the album is almost cut in half between loud, fun rockers and quiet, completely unique dream pop. For some reason people regard this album as a chief in the genre of dream pop when in reality only half of it could really truly constitute as such. The most popular of these songs is the third song, Rhinoceros. Drifting along romantically at a slow beat, lullaby bass, and pretty textured guitar, the song is nothing short of a masterpiece. What might throw off some listeners though, is how long the song is, clocking in at about six and a half minutes, never really repeating itself either. There is no set verse, and when it revisits the chorus, it does it in different way. Every few bars the guitars change sound to reveal a brand new riff or nuance, and after building up to a glorious signature Pumpkins peak of wonder, the song ends with a sigh of love. This, however, is not a lonely song. The other that stands out to me is Crush, which I have finally decided that I love after not being sure about it for a long time. What threw me off was the fact that the song is built upon a simple major scale as a bassline, the most elementary thing I’ve ever heard. But that doesn’t stop the fact that this is a wonderful, dreamy gem and completely representative of it’s title in every sense. And the following Suffer is just as good. It is almost a bit eastern, but is one of the most gentle, lovely tunes I have ever heard. There is a missing link though. One of the bands best songs, Drown, was written around the same time and was included on the Singles soundtrack. It plays a lot like Rhinoceros, but is arguably better and it would have truly made the album perfect if included.

The two least immediate songs are Snail and Window Paine. I used to think that the album fizzled out after the fifth track, but the truth of it is that this album stays very consistent all the way through. And these two songs are truly vital to the spirit of Gish. Saying that this album is happy and positive would be an understatement, and these might be the two songs that define that mood. Snail is a personal favorite and a great optimistic rocker, and Window Paine might be the beginning of what would later be known as the signature Smashing Pumpkins epic. And the final song, Daydream, truly needs to be heard to be understood. This is the albums only melancholy moment, only song that teeters fragile on the edge. This is a rare moment where D’arcy sings, and she does a very good job. Her soft voice paired with sad strings makes for a great combo. And then the song quiets, and turns into something completely different. I used to think the second part of Daydream was Billy letting his ego get the best of him and refusing to let anyone else take the spotlight in the end, but to be sure it is essential and represents the album very well.

Maybe all things considered I really do like Siamese Dream more, or at least respect it more, but I still enjoy Gish just as much. Maybe it is simply a matter of consistency. Although Siamese Dream’s best moments are downright unbelievable, it has it’s weaknesses, and Gish honestly has none besides the fact that it only stands slightly less tall next to Siamese Dream. I can look for problems in this album and turn up empty handed every time. Another reason I love it so much is because I feel like it encompasses my personality with surprising accuracy. I love relaxing, dreamy music as well as rock solid riffs, and Gish has both, sometimes slamming them together with shocking accuracy. It just feels like the perfect soundtrack to a lazy summer day. Or maybe it is the perfect soundtrack to the nineties, spanning seemingly unrelated genres to make the ultimate tribute to the breed of people that shaped the 90s music scene. These people were eclectic, leftist, laid back and yet undeniably in-your-face. So why did the word “apathy” hold so much leverage to people who truly cared so much about everything? Gish just has a little bit of everything. It is chill, abrasive, catchy, solid, sexy, and full of love. I don’t think one could ask for more.

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Eleven Reviews

April 1, 2007

Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains [Tripod]
Tripod
For their final studio effort, Alice In Chains delivered a full album that they did not accompany with a tour. They did, however, perform on David Letterman, and watching that performance even today will send chills down even casual fan’s backs. Alice In Chains Unplugged may have tied the loose ends up and ended up being the final farewell, but this album is where you see the breakdown happening for Layne Staley. Not that the album is all melancholy or heavy metal. This is actually AiCs most diverse record, and it touches on everything from the most hardcore sludge they have ever produced (no less Sludge Factory, and Grind too) to more positive songs (Heaven Beside You, Shame In You). But you can definitely hear the dissolution of the band in this record, mostly because it bounces around so much. The beautiful classic Heaven Beside You segues into the insane nausea of Head Creeps without any provocation. Most all the songs are good except for a few in the last half that don’t quite cut it as AiC classics, but Heaven Beside You is still one of the bands best and Again is the heaviest thing since Them Bones. The real winner is Over Now. After what appears to be a curl-up-and-die maneuver with the interesting Frogs, there is silence, and then a muffled recorded trumpet resound, after which the confused positive/negative song kicks in and does significant emotional effect on the listener. The biggest problem with this album is the production, which falters very obviously. The idea to continue layering Layne’s vocals was a good idea, but the vocals are treated very poorly here and the sound is simply not heavy enough. Such an emotional record should not have been treated so preciously. A remaster, perhaps? It’s not perfect, but it is a respectable way to throw in the towel and contains some of Alice In Chains’ very best songs.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin [Box Set]
Tripod
This box set released in 1990 acts as an inflated greatest hits to the music of Led Zeppelin. Each disk both covers a specific time period as well as a musical aesthetic. The first disk is the dirty blues rock that made Led Zep famous, the second disk more folky acoustic stuff (my favorite), the third disk is the longer stuff mostly from the middle career, and the fourth disk is the best of the latter stuff that kind of needs to be included for posterity. Jimmy Paige himself chose the songs so the selection is solid, and every song is great. But the truth stands that this box set was probably unnecessary. There are some rarities rounded up, the bands two famous b-sides Traveling Riverside Blues and the Bob Dylan cover Hey Hey What Can I Do, as well as a brilliant live Jimmy Paige take of White Summer/Black Mountain Side. But beyond that, there isn’t too much incentive for fans. This collection is geared towards the fan who is a little more than casual but less than obsessive, a rare breed for Led Zeppelin. For that reason, people interested in the band could have done better with the two disk greatest hits, and people who want more could have gone with The Complete Studio Recordings box set, which also has the two aforementioned b-sides. The fourth disk may be useful for people who do not want to get too into the bands latter mediocre career, as it gathers the best of those albums pretty effectively. As a collection of songs this is easily an A+ purchase, but as a compilation it is just dumb. One is probably better off just getting The Complete Studio Recordings or starting the long fan trek of buying all the albums. Led Zeppelin was a fantastic band and this is a good portrait, but why stop at this when you could have the whole deal?

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right to Children
Music Has The Right To Children
Surely Boards of Canada’s finest work, Music Has The Right to Children is at first downright confusing and off-putting but is ultimately a great ambient work. This is an album that has no clear purpose but in that sense reasserts itself within each song, creating everything ranging from small interludes to long beat oriented ambient techno. I remember walking home one day listening to this on my headphones. An Eagle In Your Mind was playing on the way there, the cool constantly changing beats keeping my mind interested and relaxed over the interesting synthesizer. Then the second I unlocked my door and walked into my dark apartment, The Color of the Fire started to play. The song is basically an airy drone underneath a childs voice horribly echoed and warped, complemented by bell-like instruments. I kind of freaked out. I didn’t know what the hell was going on and I felt like the sounds were real enough to be in the actual apartment. That is when the true purpose of this album opened up to me. Music Has The Right to Children is an album of electronic audio toys. Every song on the album has it’s own fun charms. There are some more straightforward pieces, especially the chill Turquoise Hexagon Sun comes to mind, and other times the album is more challenging, like with Sixtyten. Roygbiv is unspeakably fun or the short time it lasts, and Wildlife Analysis is a relaxing ambient opener. The whole album has a recurring mood of comfortable technology, and for that reason the album sticks together very well for how much it bounces around. It may have a few weaker songs, but the strong songs are enough to compensate and make the album a joy to listen to at any time, and a personal favorite as well. Rarely will you find an electronic/ambient album that is both passive and interesting, but Music Has The Right to Children makes the cut and is a completely unique, priceless album.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
Richard D. James Album
The issue everyone seems to have with Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album is mostly due to confusion. Confusion that the record simply does not straighten out. James’ approach on this record is completely skewed, and while this is definitely a product of his usual fun and ultimately effective psyche, listeners will likely be put off by his odd taste. Simply put, this record isn’t sure if it wants to be happy or evil, and the result is a big mess. It’s a fun mess, and an interesting one too, but by no means is this for the casual electronica listener. The ingredients are usually simple ambient melodies that could have worked as songs on their own (or maybe with soft beats) inflated to ludicrous levels of energy by breakneck beats. A surprise lies at every turn of this album, and as a result, the listener is hardly ever spared their temporary sanity. The opening 4 is an Aphex masterwork, a touching gel of strings hammered by the fast beats to make an interesting and contemplative modern piece. But then conversely the next song, Cornish Acid, is fun in a horribly evil way, with practically the same beats overlaying a creepy synthesizer. These decided contradictions are placed by the minute. Sometimes the trick works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Goon Gumpas strangely enough has no beat, and it’s a charming melody, enough to make even the happiest listener suspicious of what tricks might be up Richard’s sleeves. Girl/Boy Song is fairly innocuous even under the asteroid field of a drum machine, and another highlight. Logon Rock Witch is just evil, with a playful organ/jack-in-the-box tune that drifts into a creepy haze. And of course, Milkman is a schizophrenic trick that needs no explanation. This album probably does what it sets out to do with flying colors. I simply don’t always enjoy the goal. The intent is to make good electronic music, and there is a myriad of good tracks here, specifically 4, Fingerbib, and Girl/Boy Song. But the intent is also to confuse with an obnoxious juxtaposition of clashing elements. This can be enjoyable, and there are people who enjoy beats like this, so this is no throwaway. But I probably would have enjoyed the album more had those beats not been there at all. This album is insanity, take it or leave it.

The Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?
Irish rockers The Cranberries delivered their most acclaimed record as a debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We. There is a certain charm to this kind of music, and no question they presented their style very well for a debut. But there is simply something about this that is lacking. If anything, the wonderful tune Dreams is enough to justify the rest of the album repeating itself. And it does sort of linger on the same melancholy Gaelic themes a lot. When it does it with specific taste and hooks like with I Still Do, it’s alright. But one would think that if the band continued on in the same way they presented Dreams, the album would have been nothing short of phenomenal. But unfortunately, what The Cranberries do the most is not necessarily the most interesting. In any case, some songs here are just priceless, namely Linger and Dreams, but for anyone who wants good Irish rock, a very narrow genre, it definitely wouldn’t be a bad purchase.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach
Standing on a Beach
The Cure are the owners of a frighteningly large body of work and can therefore be a complete hassle to approach. Starting at any individual album can likely result in misconceptions or an unclear picture of what The Cure were really like because at every leg of their long career they have been a bit different. The later compilation Greatest Hits just doesn’t do the job, and there has not yet been a good collection that has covered the bands whole near three decade career. When Standing on a Beach was made, there was never any question whether another collection would have to be made because the band was already making their next album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, so this was never meant to be a complete picture but it is most likely the best place to start diving into The Cure’s imposing discography. The material here runs from the subdued punk of the bands debut Three Imaginary Boys all the way through the commercial sucess The Head on the Door, and the development is undeniably great and a wonder to listen to. Robert Smith’s voice is honed and the guitars are refined over the years that this spans. All the songs here are great, and it’s a wonder how a band so comtemplative and long winded can make such great pop gems. Accuracy is not any issue because this is a collection of singles, but the band definitely gave their best to the radio and never lost their grace in the process. The Cure are a great band and worthy of exploring, but it is tiring and troublesome to know where to start. This is not a complete picture, but there will most likely never be a completely accurate one, so for casual fans this along with the bands other singles collection Galore will be all one could ever need. And for those who want to dig deeper, this is a good branching point and signpost for where to go next. Either way, Standing on a Beach is a collection of great songs and further proof that The Cure are always fantastic.

Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Pretty Hate Machine
At what it does, Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine is a killer record. But unfortunately it has some qualities that are hard to get used to or simply not for everyone. This isn’t considered one of the industrial genres best records for no reason. Most all the songs are irresistibly catchy while staying abrasive and heavy. For a first song, Head Like a Hole is still arguably Trent Reznor’s finest concoction of muscular guitars and hypnotic electronica, and the lyrics aren’t bad either. However, one of this albums many flaws are how hit or miss the lyrics are. Half the time, they are spot on and a joy to hear unfurl (lay my hands on Heaven and the sun and the moon and the stars / while the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car), and at all other times they are cringeworthy at best (how could you turn us into this? / after you just taught me how to kiss…you). Another problem people will have with this album is the very ’80s production values, such as the echoed snares and the stylized synthesizers. But fortunately the core of the record is simply good enough to keep it’s quality apparent even after almost twenty years under it’s belt. Each song is individually crisened with great hook and develops with great guitars and catchy electronic beats and tunes. Not only are all the songs strong, but the record presents itself like a finely cut gem. None of these tunes are as bleak or pained as Reznor’s later songs, but they still have a significant bit of emotion. No question, this is a thematic album based on a relationship that is both painful but also seductively fun, but the lyrics just don’t quite cut it in the end. All the tracks are standout, from the devils hook Kinda I Want To to the sexual pulse of Down In It. The album has great things to share with the right listener, a lot like The Downward Spiral, but it’s problems catch up with it pretty readily. Although it may not be an indesputable masterpiece, it is still a great collection of songs, one of the first truly good industrial records, and a fantastic start to Trent Reznor’s great career.

Cocteau Twins – Garlands
Garlands
Garlands is no question Cocteau Twins most off the wall, odd creation. Being the bands debut one can only expect so much, but either way this is hardly an enjoyable listen. The intension here is clouded. This is kind of a stab at the gothic genre but without as much force as The Cure or similar artists. Garlands is of it’s own world, though. The beats are almost primeval, and the guitar and bass provides a quiet, reserved swirl of out of place sound in the backdrop of Liz Frasers at this point un-honed vocals. To say I don’t understand this record is avoiding the obvious fact that I don’t enjoy listening to it, but the album may well be purposefully strange. Almost every track is an uncomfortable swirl of insanity, and the guitars rarely do anything more than unsettle, and the songs do not conclude very well. One has to wonder, judging from the sharp rise in quality with the proceeding record Head Over Heels, whether this disorder was intended. But the album does have it’s redeeming moments that justify it’s existence. Blind Dumb Deaf is absolutely gorgeous in a sad paranoid way, the title track Garlands is actually kind of interesting, and Wax and Wane is often cited as a Cocteau Twins favorite by hardcore fans who like the bands earlier work. The truth is, this is just setup for the brilliance of Head Over Heels and the spectacular career that follows, but this might actually be your thing if you are looking for early gothic music.

Oceans 11 Soundtrack
Ocean's 11
For a movie that has an otherwise fantastic soundtrack, the CD release is a let down in most all ways. Whoever compiled this clearly did not know what the hell they were doing, that simple. What struck me about Oceans 11 most the first time I saw it was the awesome jazz score, but on here, most of the songs are smashed in value by way of either brevity or inclusion of in-movie dialogue. Tunes like Pickpockets, Ruben’s In, and Stealing The Pinch, and Hookers would be ten times more enjoyable if they weren’t so criminally short, and the dialogue sprinkled throughout is not only unnecessary but also annoying. Some otherwise darling Percy Faith songs are only played as background music to dialogue… So stupid. What saves this for near salvation in the longrun is the fact that the music is fantastic. Boobytrapping, The Projets, Gritty Shaker, $160 Million Chinese Man, and 69 Police are all great songs and long enough for the keeping. Claire de Lune is, as always, a charming classic as well. But the fact of the matter is, the production here is catastrophic. Fans of the movie and it’s music deserve better, and this just doesn’t deliver on the level it should.

Smashing Pumpkins – Rotten Apples: The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits
Rotten Apples
As a sampler to the Smashing Pumpkins discography, Rotten Apples does a fair job, but as a Greatest Hits compilation it fails on a few levels. For one thing, the song selection is rather mixed. To be fair, this is not “Rotten Apples: Best Of Smashing Pumpkins.” Instead, we are treated to what is supposed to be the bands biggest hits on the radio, and in many ways those hits are not presented well enough. Any fan could make the argument that certain songs should have been included, but for a few reasons this compilation just can’t decide whether it wants to be a Greatest Hits or a Best Of, so it falters more in the face of these complaints. The choice of including a shortened version of Drown from the Singles soundtrack is a nice treat though, and two bonus unreleased songs are saved for last as the incentive for fans. These two songs are, no question, fantastic. But attention to the bands whole career is divided between it’s uneven components at the demise of quality of songs. Once again, personal preference is a prevalent complaint. Mayonaise was a much bigger hit than Disarm, and there was no reason whatsoever to include Eye at all. Landslide is truly one of the bands greater gems, but it does not reflect on it’s respective album quite as much as something like Frail And Bedazzled would. If you want a place to start, this might be the best bet you have.

Nirvana – Nirvana Unplugged
Nirvana Unplugged
For as long as I can remember, Nirvana Unplugged has haunted, amazed, and touched me on levels that no other record can. It would be silly for me to pretend that this isn’t my all time favorite record considering how much I come back to it even after long periods of leaving the bands music on the backburner. Every song here is a classic, and each song, be it one of the bands songs or one of the covers, is flexed to it’s otherwise unseen limits, displaying all their glory at completely new revealing angles. Instrumentally, the music is hypnotizing, and I’m yet to figure out why even after all these years, but the perfect rhythm section probably helps and the beautiful guitars are always wonderful. The momentum the album carries is never interrupted, from the Beatles pop of About A Girl through the Meat Puppets set straight down to the Leadbelly cover. Absolutely every moment on this album is as good as can be; there is not one weak song, and even Something In The Way, which I have always considered to be one of Nirvana’s lesser songs from their popular days, is seamlessly transformed into a wonderful gem. Considering Kurt Cobain shot up some heroine right before this show and was nervous out of his mind, the quality of the music is nothing short of miraculous. The band is, in fact, in better playing condition than they have ever been, even if Dave isn’t used to playing so quietly and Kurt is high and emotionally broken. There is clearly an uneasiness here, which makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable. Kurt exaggerates the price of a Leadbelly guitar among other precious nuances shared with the audience in between songs, as if to hide what emotions are really there. Thankfully, this music speaks emotions that words cannot capture and more than makes up for the less than adequate suicide note that Kurt would write in not that many more weeks. This is not only the greatest recording Nirvana ever did, but it is also the unequivocal culmination of their entire career, perfectly tying up any loose ends and leaving me with nothing more to desire from what has always been my favorite band even under deep scrutiny. It is my personal opinion that no record is ever completely perfect, but for all intents and purposes, this is as perfect to me as any album has ever been.

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Ten Reviews

March 1, 2007

So I found this thing called rateyourmusic.com.

Anyone who knows me knows I have issues even keeping my own tastes and opinions straight, and I feel like having a profile like this helps put everything into perspective for me and keep my thoughts organized. It’s a good system for showing what I have, what I want, and what I really like as well. I have copy/pasted all the reviews from here over to there by now. But I have done a few quickie reviews on RYM as well. Not big, full album reviews, but smaller, quick, concise ones. And I feel like that’s working a bit better for me. Whenever I ask for criticism on my reviews, they are almost always that they are too long and not concise enough. So I think for a time I might see if I can write a lot shorter reviews and see how it works out. It’s not like full album reviews will just be out of the question though, I already have some more of those on the way. But I want to post some of the quickie ones I’ve got done on RYM. Enjoy.

Beck – One Foot In The Grave

Beck’s One Foot In The Grave is a quaint release in every way; it wasn’t a major album release, only two out of it’s sixteen songs meander into the three minute range, and most all of the tracks are acoustic folk recordings. Beck’s odd personality still gets into the mix with songs like Forcefield and Cyanide Breath Mint, but this is probably his most subdued album next to Sea Change. Quantity is clearly valued over quality here, but in any case almost all of the songs are real treats. The first five tracks are among Beck’s absolute best and He’s a Mighty Good Leader makes for a great opening cover, and Hollow Log is nothing if not simple and touching. A must have for Beck fans, this album is a real treat and a taste of Beck’s more stripped down early style.

Crossfade – Crossfade

I have no idea why I like this. Crossfade is a guilty pleasure record for me for sure, following in the wake of Linkin Park and other mediocre nu-metal. And let’s be honest here, it is mediocre nu-metal. Very few albums jump between good and bad as much as this. The opening Starless represents just about everything this album does wrong with a boring riff and cliched lyrics of pain and hate. Cold is interestingly enough an apology song and doesn’t wallow in it’s own problems. In any case, the lyrics almost always fail. It reaches some pretty good vibes though, which is weird, because a band of this stature really shouldn’t. It’s a contemplative listen, but the guitars don’t have enough strength. For as bad as Death Trend Setta is (if the name didn’t tip you off anyway), there are other songs that are actually good, specifically So Far Away and Disco, both of which have decent riffs and good choruses. The albums only true win though is The Unknown, the closing. It’s a simple elegant end to an otherwise overly complicated and boring album, and it emenates some great vibes and has an irresistable hook. I hate to see it, but I like this. It fails about as much as it suceeds, so I guess it’s not that accomplished, but it’s high points are actually good. For sleazy whining metal anyway.

Gorillaz – G-Sides

Gorillaz debuted with a killer album of chilled hip-hop and rock, and the album rocketed Damon Albarn to heights rivaling his fame as frontman of Blur. The album had several singles and some very good b-sides, and G-Sides is the best way to get those b-sides. But really, the disk only contains five b-sides that can’t be heard elsewhere. You might not have the Soulchild Remix of 19-2000 depending on your edition of Gorillaz, and it is far superior to the original version and well worth having, but besides the b-sides the disk only has sub-par remixes up for grabs. The version of Latin Simone found here has English vocals, and the Spanish ones were much better anyway. The rest of the remixes are really bad, nothing worth having. But the five b-sides are great gems. The true winners are Faust (chillout synths galore), Ghost Train (almost gospel hip-hop goodness) and 12D3 (a low key guitar strum with accompanying soft vocals). Probably unnecessary, but worth picking up if you liked Gorillaz.

Green Day – American Idiot

It’s unfortunate that I have gotten to the point where I cringe at the name ‘American Idiot.’ This is a very good pop album and that is just that, but it was overblown to ridiculous proportions. I’m not sure that I have heard any single album overplayed as much as this on the radiowaves, and for that reason the album is almost a task to listen to all the way through. But if it’s any condolences, this is about as good as the bands most popular effort Dookie, in it’s own way. Green Day hasn’t changed much by 2004, and they still know how to mix pop with punk pretty effortlessly. They have, however, gained a political edge. I had the pleasure of seeing the band play live on the tour, and they were very good. The crowd was annoying as all getout, but that aside the band still knows how to put on a show. And by this time they still know how to make a catchy tune. The title track and Holiday are probably the two best songs on the album, not to outrule the two great rock symphonies Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming that are just too freaking long for the radio, but they were by no means the only tunes that got radioplay. Boulevard of Broken Dreams was a radio juggernaut and Wake Me Up When September ends got a music video what felt like years after this came out. It trips in a few places, specifically Are We The Waiting and Extraordinary Girl, but it is still classic Green Day. It just annoys the shit out of me. The radio killed it. Does that matter? Eh, not really.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Cow Fingers and Mosquitoe Pie

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous blues artist you will ever have the pleasure of listening to. His popularity lives on even after his death and this disk outlines his career very well. Let’s be honest here, the man is freaking crazy. But fortunately, this craziness translates through his music perfectly. His biggest claim to fame is his, well, incessant screaming, and he does it all the time. Be it through the ridiculous blathering of Little Demon or You Made Me Love You, the mindbending irony of Darling, Please Forgive Me (the man did have well over sixty illegitimate children), or the racist bombshells I Love Paris and Hong Kong, every minute of this is pure gold. This compilation would have been worth it’s price if only just for the fantastic and influential I Put A Spell On You and the hilarious cover of Temptation, but you get your full money’s worth on this album. The only problem is the lack of Constipation Blues, a Screamin’ Jay classic that you can probably hear in your mind already. There are even some alternate takes to put the icing on the cake. Don’t hesitate; pick this up now. You need it.

Nirvana – Sliver: The Best of the Box

I can’t bear to give this a bad rating, mostly because most all of these songs are very good Nirvana rarities, but I won’t deny that the collection is kind of pointless. Anyone who would have been interested in these rarities in the first place probably wouldn’t have been adverse to just shelling out the money for the box set With The Lights Out. Even if they did put their trust in this alone, there are many selections from the box set that were left out and truly deserved a spot, such as D7, They Hung Him On A Cross, If You Must, and Verse Chorus Verse. There are three previously unreleased tracks that might make this worth it to fans like me, and they are the Spank Thru take from the Fecal Matter demo, a boombox version of Come As You Are, and another version of Sappy. I can’t complain too much because these are all great tracks, but it’s a poorly constructed and unnecessary compilation that was probably a ploy to get the casual fans money, and it most likely didn’t work very well. That’s alright though; it’s another one for the collection.

Santana – Shaman

Why I gave this the lowest rating possible is irrelevant, as everything at 2.0 and under is a blur anyway. Either it’s bad or it’s not at that point, and this is bad. REALLY BAD. Santana is one of my favorite guitarists ever, and the preceeding Supernatural was a fantastic album. I actually saw Santana on the Supernatural tour and it was my first show ever. Not too shabby. But the energy from Supernatural almost doesn’t translate to here at all. The opening Adouma is the exception. It’s a good trance-like latin solo-fest, exactly what we love from Carlos. But the rest of the album consists of horrible collaborations with people who don’t deserve to be said in the same sentence as Santana. America is an easy pick for a worst Santana song list. I suppose The Game of Love is decent if not a bit annoying, but the album is otherwise dirt. He should have stopped while he was winning with Supernatural.

Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot

A fine collection of Smashing Pumpkins b-sides, Pisces Iscariot handpicks the finest Siamese Dream era b-sides the band has to offer. One disappointing absence is that of Bullet Train To Osaka, a great James Iha original, but another one of his great songs is included, the country oriented Blew Away. Pretty much all of these songs stand alone be they muscular sunny riff-rockers like Hello Kitty Kat and Pissant or more downtempo melodies like Obscured and Soothe. There are two fabulous covers as well, a touching rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide and a catchy Girl Named Sandoz, as well as a signature SMP epic, Starla. Also included is probably the bands best b-side, Frail and Bedazzled. It almost holds the power of an individual album. You can see why these are b-sides because they really aren’t as memorable as the album songs, but they are essential nonetheless.

Tool – Lateralus

Tool’s biggest flaw is that their music goes over peoples heads before they can truly get a grip on the music and enjoy it, but the band makes up for it by being easily the most sophisticated and talented metal band active today. Lateralus just so happens to be their magnum opus, and like Tool as a band, it is an acquired taste and at first very difficult to understand. The band has progressed a great deal since ├ćnima, but every member of the band has already proved themselves to be of the absolute best at their trades, so there isn’t any real need to prove anything. The whole band lets loose with this energetic, dark, adrenaline filled masterpiece. But once again, it’s no easy listen. The genre is no longer just metal, but progressive metal, and each song is laced with complex beats and druggy dirty guitars. But for anyone who can manage to wrap their head around this album, the payback is plentiful. No time is wasted here, and only two “filler” tracks are included, both essential to the overall mood. Every track is key to the overall structure of the album, but some are a bit stronger than others. The Grudge is a colossal opener, featuring the famous Maynard twenty five second spine tingling scream and a killer Danny Carrey drum solo. Schism is the radio pick with it’s irresistible bassline akin to Fourty Six & 2. Parabol and Parabola are respectively reflective and muscular accompanying tracks, and Triad is the albums highest point, an instrumental outburst of dark energy. But once again, there is not a weak track on the album. It’s not hard to have problems with this album on the first listen; Maynard’s voice is extremely varied and may not appeal to some people and the rhythm can be downright confusing if your ear is not trained. This album may not be an easy listen or a good introduction to Tool, but it is, by a good margin, the height of their career. Tool is a very difficult, complex, and draining band, but giving them enough time to sink in yields great rewards, a fact that Lateralus demonstrates to the utmost.

Yo La Tengo – Painful

Easily Yo La Tengo’s best album, Painful is a wonderful masterpiece of dream pop and noise rock. It may not be packed to the brim with gems like I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One is, but the album does wonders in it’s own subtle ways. Each song is a meticulously planned work of art. The songs fall under two categories, quiet comforting pop and the signature Yo La Tengo guitar developing noise. This kind of combination would seem counterproductive, but in a way both fit the same mood, conveyed well even with the cover of the album. Each song has it’s own distinct night time image to go along with it, be it a badass hero trip to 7/11 or a gentle sleepy dream, this is Yo La Tengo at their absolute best. But the height of the album actually comes at the end with the monumental I Heard You Looking, one of the best dream-pop instrumentals you will ever hear and a truly moving development of sound. The problems Painful has are a matter of preference; Painful has a stronger coherency as an album than anything and has maybe less power in individual songs than I Can Hear The Heart, but it still holds a historical place with Yo La Tengo by being the first album where the band came into full circle. A tight, classic album.

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Shuffle Time (the snow is shining)

February 19, 2007

I guess I’ll do another shuffle, as I really have nothing better to do at the moment (four day weekend!).

Gorillaz – M1A1

One of the more punky songs on Gorillaz 1. I’ve always been a huge fan of this album, it’s really an album from my childhood. I was in eighth grade or so when I got this album and I got really excited about it, so I listened to it constantly, and I realize now that I liked it so mich for a good reason. It’s a friggin awesome album. It shifts so wildly and spontaneously with so much skill, and it never bores you. M1A1 is an ass kicker, like Punk I suppose, but it take a while to get to it’s point because it has this creepy little atmosphere thing going on at the beginning. In it’s own little strange way, Gorillaz is a masterpiece, and even though some of the songs might be confusing or strange, the album only has one or two weak songs. This is not one of them.

Nick Drake – Hazey Jane 1

My favorite Nick Drake album has always been Pink Moon by a longshot, and Bryter Layter has always been my least favorite. I guess the production always just felt very lacking. The strings are pushed to the back and have this very repetetive almost sleazy feeling to them. Bryter Layter is a good album, no question, but it shows it’s age after a while when Five Leaves Left and Pink Moon still sound great today. I think it’s on At The Chime of a City Clock where there is this long elegant saxaphone solo that just annoys the shit out of me. It just screams seventies, and not the seventies I like either. If they haden’t put the sax so low in the mix it would have been fine too. It’s got that echo on it that just doesn’t sit well with me. This is a good song though. It is more reminiscent of Five Leaves Left. I just really wish that Nick Drake hadn’t subdued himself so much in his music. He broke free and did what he really wanted to do on Pink Moon and that is why it’s such a touching record, but Bryter Layter just doesn’t have what it takes to carry on.

Rammstein – Mein Herz Brennt

This is a choice Rammstein song that makes use of great strings and some crunching guitars, yadadadadada. I’ve gotta tell you guys this story… I was down in Chicago one day around Christmas and a friend and I were sort of going record store hopping. We stopped at this small place called Rock Records because it looked like it would have the more obscure stuff we wanted. It didn’t have anything we wanted, and what few things appealed to us were way too expensive. So we sucked it up and walked into Virgin, and they had everything. It was ridiculous… I was specifically looking for some Mudhoney and Screaming Trees and they had pretty much everything by both bands, not to mention everything I would have ever wanted by Meat Puppets and everything else that was on my wishlist. I was fucking impressed. It’s my new favorite record store, I think. One of my friends is a huge Rammstein freak and he saw a Rammstein box set that came out last year I believe to accompany their tour on a shelf, that I believe contains a cd and a dvd. It’s called Volkerball, and it’s a rare import that usually runs for fifty bucks, sometimes even more. He found it on the shelf for thirty five bucks. I was about to smack him on the backside of the head for considering it because I wasn’t sure of it’s real value, but in any case he took it up to the counter and they had some trouble with it because it’s a rare import and shit… He ended up getting it for five dollars. I nearly crapped my pants. Depending on how you look at it, that’s a huge value. Easily the best deal on music I’ve ever seen. The cashiers looked so weirded out. He doesn’t have a region free DVD player which is I guess the only problem, but he still loves it and it is a choice live album. I’ve heard most all of it and it’s great, very crisp heavy sound quality.

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight

Goddam, I just keep getting songs with strings today. Another great use of an orchestra. For the most part, the strings are out in front in this song and the guitars are more subdued, making the feeling very momentous and special. It’s really a song that you have to crank the volume to get the best out of, but it is classic Pumpkins for sure. It is probably the most pretty thing they ever wrote that made it to the radio, and this is one of the openers to the bands sprawling double disk Mellon Collie for a reason. The lyrics are pretty wonderful too “The indescribeable moments of your life (tonight, tonight)/The impossible is possible (tonight, tonight).” It’s just great. The ending is a nice explosion of energy and the song ends on the subtle note that it started out on.

Pia Fraus – No Need For Sanity

For as much as Pia Fraus rips on a lot of other shoegaze bands, In Solarium is still a great album. For sure this is one of it’s more individual and unique songs. It goes at a very slow pace. The bassline is cool and the guitars mimic Lush and MV at times but it is a nice song noetheless. One problem it does have is that it has problems really going anywhere. The long guitar solo instrumental parts are very nice though and give the rest of the song a lot of meaning. It’s probably what you would want to hear if you were on a beautiful tropical beach and you wanted it to snow just for five minutes.

Led Zeppelin – Friends

One of Zeps more underrated songs, and it’s on my favorite Zep album too. It starts off with a fairly simple guitar strum, but the indian influences come in full force very quickly a solo guitar playing very distinct little ditties and then the addition of (holy shit) some very soaring strings and Robert Plants voice when it was in it’s prime. I’ve learned something about eastern scales lately; most indian music uses it’s own modified scales for ragas and such, but a lot of times indian music is variation on the harmonic minor scale, and the varient is specifically the minor second. You may say, but Alex, isn’t the minor second the same as the major second? Actually, no. A minor second is just a chromatic, or a half step. It’s not the way it works in the normal minor scale but it is still called a minor seond for some reason. So you get that really rich indian sound by digging that second a half step lower so it’s just next to the first, specifically on the descending scale and not so much on the ascending. You can hear it here pretty distinctly as it really gives shape to the indian sound.

The Barenaked Ladies – Alcohol


Eh. There is a fine line between sleazy 90s rock and simply apathetic 90s rock. It’s not that great. When it goes off into the annoying little anthem at 1:45 it’s practically asking me to skip the rest of the song. You could do better for drinking songs. Mostly those should be more testosterome fueled than this, which ends up being pretty repetetive and boring. Whatever.

Elvis Presley – A Little Less Conversation (Radio Edit)


There is no reason this wasn’t featured on the Oceans 11 soundtrack. Period. It was released on an Elvis greatest hits compilation at almost the exact same time, and it’s a great remix. The movie instead settled for the original version. Stupid stupid stupid. I can just picture Andy Garcia flipping a shit at his realization of the heist at one of the songs great chorus transitions. It has a great bassline and the mood is well improved over the original while not sacrificing any of the Kings charm. It’s got trend and some great horns and energy highs. If you were ever to crank an Elvis song, this would be it. Yes, it may be a radio edit but even the original is extremely cool. I got no problems with the king and this is a great song no matter how it’s sliced.

Radiohead – Paranoid Android


Some people call this the modern day Bohemian Rhapsody, but that’s actually an insult. To Radiohead, I mean. Queen never meant much of anything, and I could never take them seriously. This is one of OKCs more serious songs and it is very rhythmic and reminiscent of everyday modern life, which is very much what this album is all about. Not a lot can be said about this album that hasn’t been said before, but I do still discover new things about this album every so often. As a friend pointed out to me, there is some nice foreshadowing in the song with the Apple robot sounds in the background forecasting what is to come on the great filler Fitter Happier. What is really strange about this song is that it sort of comes in distinct movements, the one at 3:32 being the most developing and poignant. When the vocals start to triple up the effect is hauntingly beautiful. I have some great memories of listening to this album a few years ago. I know it’s nerdy, but I associate a lot of music with video games, and OKC is totally perfect for Final Fantasy VIII. The huge open plains for Airbag, the nighttime city for Exit Music, and the wonderful technological Garden for Let Down. It’s a choice song from a perfect album.

Xymox – Spiritual High


One of the two good songs off of Headclouds, the other being A Single Day. The fact of the matter is that most people would buy headclouds just for the club hit A Single Day which is very good, but the rest of the album isn’t that great. I guess I haven’t given this band enough attension, as they are a pretty big deal in the electronica genre. They usually go under the name “The Clan of Xymox,” so I guess the career of “Xymox” is pretty mediocre while The Clan has had some pretty monumental albums since ’85 up until today. They aren’t small time, that’s for sure. But they aren’t exactly my favorite of their genre but I sure as hell won’t turn them off if they squeeze into any of my industrial/electronica/club loving friends mix CDs. Club hits, not too much more.

I guess that was ten. That’s all for now.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Adore

December 23, 2006


For my fourteenth birthday, I recieved two gifts from one of my best friends. One was a specially ordered bag of my favorite flavors of jelly-bellys; peach, green apple, and blueberry. The other was this album. I have fond memories of sitting on the floor of my room, leaning against my dresser, gorging myself with jelly bellies, and staring at my stereo, trying to come to grips with Adore. It’s not an easy album, that’s for sure. There is a reason that this didn’t sell. Maybe not a good reason, but a reason nonetheless. And it’s true, the album sold very shitty, and yet when you ask a rabid Smashing Pumpkins fan which of the bands albums they hold most dear to them to this day, a good chunk of them will tell you that Adore is that album. Which is actually very strange when you think about it, considering the grandiose of the bands previous albums. The truth of the matter is, no fans or even casual listeners were expecting anything remotely close to this. So it caught them off guard, and they flipped a shit. They called it gothic techno bullshit and then that was over, the Pumpkins were “going downhill.” And yet now so many years later you would be hard pressed to find a fan that doesn’t, well, adore this record.

The album even starts out with a song that fans would probably be a bit jarred by. It’s quiet guitars and steady non-intrusive beat build a sweet melody up into a pretty tune, and consequently disassemble it progressively. While this is not a strong structure that fans could really be THAT disturbed by, by that point it was the most vulnerable song that the band had written, and it would have most likely made a listener who was expecting something in particular feel confused. And at that, they would feel even more confused when the pulsating sexual bass kicks in after the warped synth beats in Ava Adore. While this is a song that the openminded listener could understand, you have to understand how weird this was at first listen. Most fans found this a disturbing shift to electronica. After all, the band had started to use the instrument that had helped the band almost ten years prior to this, the drum machine. And because of this previous experience, they actually know how to use one. Ava Adore is something that fans of the earlier albums can understand but maybe not completely appreciate.

To appreciate this album, it helps to understand the circumstances under which it was crafted. The band had just gotten done harvesting the fruits of their third album, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and had secured their position in the rock history books. Their first album, Gish, showed an artier more dream-pop side, while Siamese Dream is a one two arena-rock anthem punch to the face, decidedly a crowd pleaser and a stray from pretentious art-rock, so says Billy Corgan. Mellon Collie is a massive two disk smorgesborg outlining pretty much every other aspect of the band that listeners were begging for. It delivered with flying colors after an anticipated wait, and although people may call Billy a dick for deeming it “The Wall of the nineties,” that’s exactly what it is as far as popularity goes. During the touring of Mellon Collie, the bands touring keyboardist died of a drug overdose while getting high with drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. Jimmy was promptly fired, and the tour was finished with replacements. Tensions rose between the remaining band members… D’arcy Wretsky and James Iha founded Scratchie Records (which is still around and kicking today) and Billy Corgan speaks of the bands stress and turmoil during this period. Billy’s mother also died, and his wife divorced him. Make no mistake, this was a very painful time for the band. Even though the record sold abysmally, the fans still ate it up, and the band finally proved that there was, in fact, no need to prove anything else. Playing the roles of rock troubadours, the band embarked on a massive world tour, dressed in gothic clothes and makeup, playing gigs in, as you will hear as legend by any commentator, extremely strange places. Namely, the back of a truck, an art museum, and other such small venues.


By this point in the bands history, it would have been absurd not to create a record of this stature. To be sure, this is the Pumpkins most open album yet. You can see D’arcy’s tits in the liner notes, for christs sake. You can hear the fighting, the grief, and the turmoil in the music. And yet most of the music is serene while it is painful and sad. This was really the first album where the Pumpkins did not care one bit about image or mainstream appeal, and it just happens to be the depressing one. Once again, there are great similarities to the bands previous work. The song Perfect would strike listeners as familiar, holding many similarities to 1979 in instrumentation and mood.

One thing I really feel that I must mention is what some people think of as an “ego problem” that Billy Corgan possesses. People seem to forget that frontmen have a duty to put themselves in the forefront and be the star of the show, and when there isn’t a party-crazy drummer or a wild guitarist, who else would you give the spotlight to but the main songwriter? Really, the man doesn’t have as big of an ego as some would like to think. It is a tad overinflated, but not dangerously or disturbingly so. For that reason, the music video for Ava Adore probably features more of the rest of the band than many of there other videos, even if it has Billy out in front for most of the entire thing. There was clearly an emphasis on the fact that a member of the band was gone. Many of the songs have a very light, airy atmosphere, but this is still the work of a band in any case. There is not so much an emphasis on the individual so much as there is on the songs, save maybe To Sheila and For Martha. If there is one album where stress does not get in the way, it’s Adore. The stress affects the music, and you can really feel it, but it doesn’t get in the way, at all.

To name highlights of this album is a bit silly, and choosing favorites is extremely difficult. The singles, Ava Adore and Perfect, will be the songs that fans of the previous albums will like. There are some quieter more story-based pieces as well, namely The Tale of Dusty And Pistol Pete and Once Upon A Time, both of which flutter with airy beauty. There are some fast more electronic based pieces too, Appels + Oranjes and Daphne Descends. The standout track to me, personally, is also the most distinct and individual on the album. Pug is the most seductive and sexual song the band ever (or “has ever,” if you will) made, and it oozes fantastic guitars and a killer beat. The album also has an epic that fans will love, For Martha, near the end of the album. The end of the album. It’s fantastic, and it will even knock the most prepared person off of their feet. The home stretch of the last three or four songs is something that really needs to be heard to understood, and Adore leaves on a better (albeit sadder) note than any of the bands other albums. Weak songs are few and far between… In my opinion, there is only one, and it’s not even really bad enough to be worth mentioning or anything. Don’t worry about it.

This is not an easy album. You probably will not like it at first. But the more you try to wrap your head around it, the more it opens up and presents itself as being just as beautiful as any of the bands prior work. If you won’t take anything less than a Mellon Collie killer or an album full of anthems, you may be a tad disappointed, but please do not let this one slip though your fingers. In short, it is the album you hate to love. No matter how much you will try to stray yourself away from it, you will surely come back to it. Unfortunately, Billy Corgan says it like it is in Daphne Descends when he whispers “You can’t resist.” The more you put into this album, the more you will get out of it and the more great it will be, just as great as many of the Smashing Pumpkins other essentials, even if it takes a fuck of a lot of jelly-bellies.

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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?