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Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins
Machina: The Machines of God
Forget Geddy Lee and AC/DC's Brian Johnson -- the award for the most annoying voice in rock goes to Smashing Pumpkins' lead shrieker Billy Corgan. Shrill, soulless, and metallic in the worst sense of the word, Corgan whines like a brat who's just learned he can't have any pudding until he finishes his meat. But vocal limitations are just the beginning. Like his hero David Bowie, Corgan does everything in his power to promote the notion that he's some sort of musical genius simply because he creates songs with assembly line efficiency and plays a slew of instruments. But if Corgan is so great, why hasn't he made a statement as profound as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or Beck's "Loser"? As the Pumpkins celebrate anniversary number ten, Corgan is probably best known for the line, "Despite all my rage, I'm still just a rat in a cage." Bob Dylan must be quaking in his boots.

Smashing Pumpkins' global success proves conclusively that there's a sucker born every minute, and this bewildering state of affairs will no doubt continue with the release of the band's latest album, Machina: The Machines of God. Co-produced by Corgan and Flood (a.k.a. Mark Ellis), Machina is knee-deep in hummable new-wave melodies, bong-hit psychedelia, and melodramatic lyricism, but it's all just noise signifying nothing. Judging by pretentious song titles like "I of the Mourning," "The Imploding Voice" and -- good grief -- "The Crying Tree of Mercury," Corgan is attempting to create a mythic treatise on life, love, and God. Unfortunately his lyrics are positively impenetrable. Ever get the feeling Corgan uses cryptic metaphors because he's incapable of meaningful introspection?

Corgan's abstract concerns are strange considering that the Pumpkins' new album was forged in turmoil. Long-time bassist D'Arcy Wretzky has been replaced by former Hole timekeeper Melissa Auf Der Maur, while drummer Jimmy Chamberlin has returned to the fold following a dangerous and well-publicized drug rehab experience. Real songwriters pray for dramas like these. Yet Corgan sidesteps the Pumpkins' personal issues and gives us a stillborn concept album. Machina could have been a groundbreaking work about inner demons, forgiveness, and the complexities of friendship. Instead we get philosophical swill masquerading as profundity. Sad. -- Bruce Britt

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Bruce Britt