Smashing Pumpkins - Machina II / the friends and enemies
of modern music
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed Sept. 18, 2000
Art: Phil Bonyata
By Tony BonyataOn the heels of The Smashing Pumpkins' recent announcement that they're breaking up after their current European tour, they have, surprisingly, just released their final farewell album - Machina II / the friends and enemies of modern music. And although its release comes just a mere 6 months after their last recording - Machina / the machines of God (an unheard of practice in todays record industry, where corporate big wigs try and squeeze every last penny out of each release), the Pumpkins' brainchild Billy Corgan has a plan.
In a final 'up-yours' to their record label, Virgin, (who Corgan felt wasn't representing the band properly) they've bypassed the label and instead put the marketing and promotion of Machina II directly into the hands of their fans.
An extremely limited pressing of 25 copies were produced on a 5 disc vinyl set (3 - 10" records, and 2 - 12" LPs) and given away to fans to distribute as they see fit. With no future pressings of Machina II , Corgan's intent for the sole promotion of this album is through bootlegging, an unprecedented, and very generous, move for an artist.
Ever since the July, 1969 underground release of Bob Dylan's Great White Wonder (arguably the first rock album ever bootlegged), the recording of commercially unreleased live and studio material has mushroomed from a small cottage industry in the early '70s to the multi-million dollar business it is today. Artists and record companies alike complain that the bootlegged material may not be strong enough to commercially release, but then also complain of lost revenue when the material is unofficially released. The latter wouldn't be true, if they had released it in the first place. And although it's easy to point the finger at the companies illegally releasing this bootlegged material, it's really the fans, who are willing to pay top dollar for that elusive studio outtake or concert performance they can't score anywhere else, that are creating the market.
Now with the advent of the Internet, MP3s and Napster it seems that bootlegging is running rampant throughout the world. Although there have been numerous Internet releases by artists, they have been mainly pre-releases to something that eventually became commercially available, or worse yet, if it was unique material only to be obtained through the Web it carried a hefty price tag along with it.
The Pumpkins are, in fact, the first band to produce a complete album, with no intentions to ever release it commercially, and make it available to their fans through a grassroots bootlegging promotion.
Although the notion of bootlegging any album may seem unethical, Machina II is the exception. This is a gift from one of the most talented rock groups of the last decade - with no strings attached. No record label owns this material, so there are no legal ramifications or self-inflicted guilt trips if you want to tape, burn, rip, trade or even sell this material. It's your's and mine to do with as we please.
So far the album has been revealed through a world debut on Chicago's WXRT radio station (who received number 20 of the 25 copies), as well as downloadable MP3's on a few Smashing Pumpkins fan-sites on the Internet (which will undoubtedly be found on hundreds of sites before you can say, "Thanks, Billy.")
So the question that remains, as we look this gift-horse in the mouth, is 'how is it?' And the answer is, it's a sweeping, majestic, sonically textured collection of rock songs that are at times pretentious, but as always, filled with the unbridled power that we've come to expect from this Chicago-based band.
From the opening guitar shards over Corgan's snarling voice on the punk-infused "Glass' Theme" to the deafening thunder created by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and shrill guitar lines from James Iha on "Cash Car Star" and "Dross" this is the heavy-hitting Pumpkins of yore.
Even when they manage to tone things down a bit, as on the grandiose pop of "Real Love," "Let Me Give The World To You," as well as the ironically hopeful sounding "Here's To The Atom Bomb" and "Go," which features Iha's fragile, earnest voice, they still manage to inject a sense of urgency into these more tender moments with their 'wall of sonic cacophony.'
"Everybody's business is everybody's business. Nobody understands, we've got a masterplan, we're an American band for you," snarls Corgan on "Cash Car Star," before declaring the demise of the band as he continues, "Yeah, we're tearing it down for you." With this great American band's last plan of making the promotion of their powerful swan song everybody's business, a collective 'thank you' from their fans is in order for The Smashing Pumpkins. Now what are you waiting for - get ripping!
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