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Smashing Pumpkins 

Machina/The Machines of God

Smashing Pumpkins
Machina/The Machines of God
(Virgin)

You can't blame Smashing Pumpkins leader/dictator Billy Corgan for the band's 1998 travesty, the electronica experiment Adore. Sure, it was pretentious and obtuse, but at that time everyone was jumping on the electronica bandwagon, including U2. The true measure of the Pumpkins comes with their follow-up, Machina/The Machines of God. This attempt to reestablish the Chicago-based group as pertinent in the new millennium finds once-exiled drummer Jimmy Chamberlin back in the mix, while bassist D'Arcy Wretzky recently quit (she's been replaced by former Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur). Despite the lineup shuffle, the Pumpkins have answered the call with what is their best release since 1993's Siamese Dream.

Without overtly patronizing fans or pandering to radio programmers, the 15-song disc covers a plethora of emotions -- anger ("The Everlasting Gaze," "Heavy Metal Machine"), sadness ("Blue Skies Bring Tears"), and redemption ("Rain Drops & Sun Showers"). Some of the material is radio-friendly -- nothing as obvious as "Today" or "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" -- but the appeal isn't based on sly hooks as much as content. The songs suggest a return to the band's guitar-rock style. The throbbing first single, "The Everlasting Gaze," gives the scorned Corgan a sounding board, with Chamberlin showing off his percussive chops. But the most obvious return to alt-rock is "I of the Morning," on which Corgan laments/questions: "Radio plays my favorite song . . . what is it you want?" Its layered guitars blossom right before the momentum reaches a fever pitch. This is pure Pumpkins magic.

Diehards will salivate at the inclusion of "Glass and the Ghost Children." Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, this morose, discordant track changes the album's pace. Corgan indulged his eccentric side -- normally relegated for B-side releases (see 1996's The Aeroplane Flies High) -- to produce this two-part track, which is sandwiched with excerpts from what sounds like a mini-recorder tape of Corgan pondering his life. Its peculiarity fits perfectly into the song's style. Machina/The Machines of God may not match the mainstream success of Pumpkins past, but it's the album that was needed to restore their credibility with fans, as well as their integrity within what's left of the alt-rock genre. -- John Benson

More by John Benson

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