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The former Pumpkins' electro-pop experiment...
on 11 February 2006
TheFutureEmbrace sounds like former Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan has stumbled upon an old Victorian time machine, travelled back to England 1982 to soak up the goth, pop and new romantic movements, before travelling back to Berlin, circa '77, to jam with Kraftwerk and the Thin White Duke. Either that or he's decided that he had so much fun producing Adore in 1998 that he's decided to do it all over again... only this time, under his own name. TheFutureEmbrace is an album that sounds like the Pumpkins as they moved towards the goth/electronic phase of their career, but at the same time, is an album that also sounds like a Depeche Mode covers band in need of a serious direction!!! Corgan clearly loves the British new-wave movement, drafting in the cold dissonant synths of the Mode, the bleak and fragmented lyrics of Station to Station/Heroes era Bowie, the cold delivery of Ian Curtis, and the fuzzy guitars and the air of overblown melodrama favoured by The Cure. The fact that any semblance of the Pumpkins (in any of their previous guises) manages to permeate this clouded melting pot of references and ideas is a surprise in itself... though, whether or not this is considered be a good or a bad thing will be completely down to the individual.
If you walk into TheFutureEmbrace expecting Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie style stadium rock you will only be disappointed. This is like Adore/Machina, only with even more electronic doodling and less of the trademark Corgan guitar... instead, we have all manner of icy and angular style keyboards, electronic drum beats, programmed samples and treated-guitars (to the point where they no longer sound like guitars) forming the backbone of the album; over which, Corgan chants vague and repetitive lyrical snatches in the most robotic-like delivery possible!! Musically the album is fine... Corgan seems to favour the idea of atmosphere rather than pop sophistication, to some extent creating an album that is even more languid and meandering than the underrated Adore, and again, shows that Corgan has been reading the "how to create the perfect new-wave dreamscape" handbook, whilst simultaneously fanning through his stacks of early six-form poetry. Certainly the album is well produced, but surely this is expected from the team behind the epic and still surprisingly fascinating Mellon Collie album?, with Corgan and Co. managing to get the subtle symbiosis between the cool digital instruments and the fuzzy analogue blips just right, creating in the process, an album that is bright, vibrant and futuristic (in the best possible sense) but also cold, dated and decidedly retro (in a maddeningly self-conscious sense!!).
I respect the fact that Corgan is attempting something different, attacking a personal concept and applying it to a style of music that he is (mostly) unfamiliar with. But much of the album is dull, and if I'm being completely honest, many of the songs and lyrics left me completely cold. On the first listen, none of the songs really stood out. The same thing could be said of the second listen, with only the pretentiously re-titled Tolovesomebody standing out from the crowd (which is unsurprising really, given that it's a Bee Gee's cover, and not a Corgan original!!). On further inspection, the second track Mina Loy (M.O.H.) stands out as one of Corgan's best compositions ever. The Camera Eye isn't bad either, bubbling along on a processed guitar ripple replete with analogue distortions and synthetic blips and bleeps (in fact, on further listening, it's a potential classic).
At least half of the album could probably be thought of as pop music from the future. In fact, Corgan could probably make a pretty good living scoring science-fiction films, creating strange alien pop music to play in the background of high-tech scenarios. The other half of the album, however, just sounds like poor synth-pop knock-offs with navel-gazing lyrics. To call these songs bad would probably be a little unfair... but certainly they lack any real depth or interest, and instead, tend to come across as nothing more than a self-conscious pastiche. A100 is one of the album's weaker points, trekking across ground already covered by Adore more than half a decade earlier, ripping off synth lines from Depeche Mode's Violator album and generally reminding me of that awful budget dance track 'I Like the Way You Move' by the Bodyrockers (or whatever they were called?). Along with the opening track, All Things Change, as well as Sorrows (In Blue) and Pretty, Pretty Star this makes up the downside of the album, with too many songs that either sound the same, sound like other artists, or worse, sound like self-parody.
Dia sounds like a New Order song... in fact, it sounds exactly like the New Order song that Corgan collaborated on (Turn My Way from 2001's Get Ready), but despite this, it's enjoyable enough, if hardly revolutionary. Now (And Then) is another fine song, drawing more obviously on the sound of the Pumpkins - particularly some of the lullaby rock songs from Mellon Collie and Adore - with Corgan's warm and reassuring words resonating over the minimal electronic backing track. On the whole, TheFutureEmbrace remains a bold and interesting attempt by Corgan to push his musical pallet forwards into new and previously unexplored directions... it's not entirely successful, with a few songs ending up dead in the water, but on the whole, it works, and a number of the songs do grow on you with time. Certainly not a masterpiece by any measure, but a definite grower, with enough musical high points to endear it to the heart's of anyone with more than a passing interest in synth-pop/electro-pop, or Corgan's career in general.