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on 22 January 2006
Legendary rockers the Smashing Pumpkins were winding down by their fifth album, which was sadly their last as well. Instead of the dark electronic sound of their fourth album, "Machina/The Machines of God" goes sort of hard-rock/industrial, full of thunderous bass and dark songwriting. Too bad it was their swan song.
There was some backlash against "Adore," with its more electronic sound, and so Billy Corgon and Co. went back to the hard rock sound of their past albums. You can hear the determination in the dark, explosive "The Everlasting Gaze," which opens the album on a very strong note. Things get a bit less heavy from there on in, but not much.
The Pumpkins were always good at epic songs, and that kicks in with the "Adore" soundalike "Raindrops + Sunshowers," which is a bit like taking mescaline in a haunted house. The album sags on a few heavier songs in the middle, before kicking back into high gear with the songs like bass-rocker "Imploding Voice" and the otherworldly "The Crying Tree Of Mercury."
Don't expect ballads on this album -- "Machina/The Machines of God" relies on fuzz bass and percussion, giving it a complete hard-rock sound. "With Every Light" is the closest thing it has to a ballad or pop song. As a result, "Machina" has a feeling of overhanging gloom'n'doom, especially when you hear Corgan's amguished songwriting. Atmosphere lies heavy on "Machina."
Not that this album is a complete success -- the metal/industrial sound gets dull in songs like "Heavy Metal Machine." Good luck finding an actual melody in that one -- it sounds like a B-side that was kept in. The problem here is that the Pumpkins were at their best when they did different kinds of songs on a given album; when they do only one kind, it sounds... restricted.
Jimmy Chamberlain returned to the band briefly, and his drumming shines through the murky music, as does the excellent basslines of Melissa Auf Der Maur (both have solo bands now), and Corgan's songwriting still carries emotional and verbal weight. He wasn't quite on peak form, but bad Billy Corgan is still pretty good.
The only problem is Corgan's vocals on the heavier songs. Much is said about his singing skills, but here it's hard to even tell. The Pumpkins frontman's voice can't always rise above the music -- Corgan sometimes sounds like he's drowning in his own bass.
The Smashing Pumpkins never made another record after "Machina/The Machines of God," which is a shame. While one of their weaker creations, it's still a moody, atmospheric and deeply saddening album.