Looking back at … Smashing Pumpkins – Machina

MACHINA/The machines of God

“tired of fighting the good fight against the Britneys of the world”

Billy Corgan joking about why SP broke in 2000.

The year was 2000, the world didn’t end, shattering the dreams of many a nerdy prophet of doom and the date was 29 of February. Amongst the hellish landscape that was the ubiquitousness of boybands and dressep up tarts, The Smashing Pumpkins released MACHINA/The machines of God, a sort of return to their noisier roots, but secretly, a last gasp before sinking into oblivion.

With the strength of an impressive, heavy lead single, MACHINA felt like an injection of adrenaline after the stark and beautifully dream like atmospheres of Adore. Although recorded with all the band reunited, D’arcy had already left by the time the album was out, but her replacement, Melissa Auf Der Maur, was more than capable of taking over.

The first time I held the album in my hands, I didn’t know what to expect. I loved Adore, but it took me sometime to “get it”. Would it happen the same all over again? First track, absolutely floored me. Second and third tracks? Alarm bells went ringing. They sounded saturated, perhaps even getting some clipping there, but I still was tuned.

Then it came. “Radio / play my favourite song”. From the moment I heard that intro, with Billy Corgan’s voice deeply tinged with a mindnumbing sadness, I knew I found the song that would make me revisit the album for the rest of my life.

Never mind that the songs that followed in the track list didn’t grab me as hard or made me feel goosebumps as much as ‘I of the mourning‘ did. No, the point is that whenever I get that unnamed feeling with an album, it’s like falling in love. Cupid’s arrow was filled with delays, ebows and mad drumming (courtesy of Godlike Jimmy Chamberlin).

I dived into the booklet. Alchemy symbols, haunting paintings (courtesy of Vasily Kafanov) and the motif of glass being repeated . A few months later, snippets of the concept were leaked, whether by images or by animations. It was the story of Zero, a successful musician, and his downfall. How sadly prophetic, as the Pumpkins disintegrated soon after the album failed to get an audience and barely surviving a critical pummelling.

There are so many gems in this album. ‘Wound’ and it’s understated happiness. The growing insanity from ‘Blue skies bring tears’. The slow burning ‘Glass and the ghost children’. The sound of relationships (not only romantic ones, though) ending. It all gelled together to make a sonic album with an specific sound that was further developed into the cybermetal monster Zeitgeist (an album that honestly took me 2 years to get into, but once I did, wow, just wow).

Heck, even the tarot/mysticism theme is being revisited for Smashing Pumpkins’ current venture, the mammoth like ‘Teargarden by kaleidyscope‘, so maybe it’s not that much gone and forgotten.

Still, the band crumbled and once the dust cleared, the second half of Machina, named Machina II/The friends and enemies of modern music was released for free on limited vinyls, with orders from Corgan himself to copy and distribute for freely on the Internet as a final “fuck you” (and ode to no one?) to their label.

A multimedia experience, free downloads and an intense, rich booklet. MACHINA/The Machines of God was truly ahead of its time and the themes of frailty and madness are perfectly touched upon with the earnest lyrics, while the sheer brutality of the music makes it a tour de force for this band.

If you want to see the strange animations (something Gorillaz managed to pull quite well) chronicling the fall and decline of Zero/Glass, click for part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Get Machina II/The friends and enemies of modern music here. I heartily recommend the Q101 mix.

Sam J. Valdés López

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