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machina'bility

Machina/The Machines of God

Machina/The Machines of God is The Smashing Pumpkins' fifth studio album, released on February 29, 2000. A concept album, it marked the return of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and was intended to be the band's final official LP release prior to their first breakup in 2000. A sequel album—Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music—was later released independently via the internet.

As with Adore, Machina represented a drastic image and sound change for the band. Nonetheless, Machina, like its predecessor, failed to reconnect the Pumpkins with chart-topping success. However, the band's tours in support of Machina, entitled Resume the Pose and The Sacred + Profane, were far more successful than the Adore tour, as fans responded to the return of Chamberlin and setlists that included far more of the Pumpkins' back catalog.

Recording

The recording of Machina was unusually secretive, in contrast to the sessions for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore, both of which were partially filmed. Much like Mellon Collie, the songs were first tracked acoustically at Sadlands in late 1998 before the band set to work on them at Pumpkinland and the Chicago Recording Company with Howard Willing, Bjorn Thorsrud and Flood. Corgan described the recording process for Machina:
This record was a lot of fun to do, and the writing was incredibly easy. We spent most of the time trying to take the songs as far as they could be taken down a particular avenue. So if it was gonna be proto cyber metal, we tried to make it very proto and very cyber. If it was acoustic, then we tried to not fall into the (typical) ballad-y kind of aspects. That's where we spent most of our time. The songs were probably written in about a day.

The band took a break from recording in April 1999 to embark on the Arising! tour, which took the band to eight small clubs. At the tour's conclusion, D'arcy Wretzky left the band. Flood remembers,

Billy and I thought, 'How are we going to do this?' We decided that we were going to have to make a very different kind of record. They saw out their time on the tour, and after that we pretty much went back to the drawing board. Certain songs on the record are survivors from that first period, but it meant a shift in the ways songs had to be formed.

Interviews at the time claimed that D'arcy had "completed her work" on the album, but the extent of her contributions on the final album are unknown. Corgan later downplayed her role in all Smashing Pumpkins recordings.

Album

Corgan has asserted that Machina was always intended to be the band's final album - this being the reason for recruiting Jimmy Chamberlin back into the band. Corgan has also said it was meant to be a double album (with Machina II being the second disc) but that idea was not approved by Virgin Records as they didn't want to release a risky double album after the disappointing sales of Adore. After Machina proved even less successful than Adore, the band released Machina II on their own.

Fans were surprised when the Machina tracklist was released with only five of the new tracks from The Arising! (not including "The Imploding Voice", a reworking of "Virex"). Many of the songs on the album refer to love and relationships (both romantic and otherwise) ending, most of them obvious references to the band themselves. According to Corgan, the album was structured so that the first eight tracks would be "more poppy," and the last five "more arty. More generally, Corgan appraised the sound of the album as "a rock 'n' roll approach with pop sensibility". After the demure Adore, Machina represented a return to the distorted guitar sound of prior albums, though synthesizers and acoustic guitars were still heavily used.

"Stand Inside Your Love" was released on January 21 2000 as a commercially available single. "The Everlasting Gaze", however, was released at the last minute as the album's first radio single in December 1999. Director Jonas Åkerlund shot videos for "The Everlasting Gaze" and album's last single "Try, Try, Try" which was released on September 11 2000. The video for the latter single was not widely played, in part because of its explicit violence and drug use. "I of the Mourning" was also released as a promotional single and received limited airplay. "Heavy Metal Machine" was issued as a promotional cassette but was not distributed to radio stations.

Machina as a concept album

Although Machina is much more story-based than previous releases, which have sometimes hinted at concepts, it is not a story album in the vein of Tommy or The Wall, but is much more open to interpretation. Corgan stated that many of the songs are written from the perspective of the band as the press and public viewed them, rather than Corgan himself. In this vein, songs such as "Heavy Metal Machine" are seen as parodies and homage to their influences and public perception. Nonetheless, it is a concept album, with a story about a rock star named Zero hearing the voice of God, renaming himself Glass, and renaming his band the Machines of God. Fans of the band were referred to as the "Ghost Children," which has now become a term for Pumpkins fans. This story, while planned thoroughly by Corgan (see image), was only implied in the album's lyrics, and was greatly expanded via the liner notes in both Machina albums, additional writings posted to a weblog entitled "Chards of Glass", and, later, an animated web series.

According to Billy Corgan, the original plan was to stay in character as the Machines of God throughout the record's promotion. He explained, "When the re-formed band agreed to the concept in October of 1998 as a way to bring the band to a close, everyone agreed to 'play their part' all the way down the line. I never envisioned that D'arcy would leave in April of '99, and that subsequently the 3 of us would try to finish. This put a stress obviously on the full integrity of the project. Because it was connected to the band not only bringing the music to fruition fully, but also the public component of being in character. I ended up in a broken band with a half-ass enthusiasm towards finishing a project already started.

Glass and the Machines of God: the animated web series

In June 2001, a few members of the Smashing Pumpkins Message Board were sent mysterious video clips that pointed to a website called Black Wings Over the World. Thus began the "June Mystery". The first website held clues to find two other websites, also hiding the username/password for one site - The Paracell Corporation. Black Wings also hid another site's address, Smash The System. Over the next two months more clues were dropped on the message board and more sites were found and codes cracked. Finally, all this frenzy of mystery and excitement climaxed with the announcement that Glass and The Machines of God was being made as a web based animated series. This was an early example of an internet-based alternate reality game, a form of viral marketing. The series would be interactive, to a degree, and everyone would have the chance, via Sony's Screenblast, to create their own characters and remixes for the series.

The animated series has since been "put on the shelf" indefinitely. Various rumors attribute the end of the project as lack of interest from Corgan and/or fans. Three episodes were leaked onto the internet in 2003. There has been debate over whether these were early "drafts" or final cuts. The first two episodes contain no credits, where the third episode shows credits at the beginning.

In the first episode, Zero hears the Voice in the Radio and contacts his old friend and manager, Ruby. Their conversation is intercepted and patched through to the head of the Paracell Corp, Mr. Valentine - who has had a history with Zero.

Episode two shows Zero's transformation into Glass while visiting Ruby and the subsequent negotiations to get The Machines of God their first gig.

In the third episode we see how Glass affects the audience with his message of revolution.

There was also debate about whether or not background characters were in fact the Ghost Children created by the fans. However, one character - Maya, the Paracell psychic - is known to be a character created by a fan.

Artwork

The booklet artwork loosely tells the album's story through a series of plates featuring medieval-style paintings and text presented in a printing press font created by Vasily Kafanov. The heavily symbolic artwork references the subjects of alchemy, chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, semiotics, mysticism, spiritualism, and art. "I of the Mourning" is the only release from the album that did not include cover art by Vasily Kafanov. The album was nominated for a 2001 Grammy for Best Recording Package. On page 20 of the booklet in the pictograph labelled: "Plate XII-IN ALL THINGS THE SYMBOLS REIGN SUPREME", there is a small circled number '5' with a '2' and '3' on either side, which correspondes to the date (May 23rd) of the annocement by Billy Corgan of the bands break up. This is significant because the album had already been released for months prior to the annoncement which may be a sign that the date had already been chosen for that specific purpose and may have been a clue to more observant fans.

Response

Machina is generally considered to be among The Smashing Pumpkins' least successful releases. Although it entered the U.S. charts at #3, sales declined sixty percent the second week, and continued to slide. With U.S. sales of 583,000 units as of 2005, Machina was the lowest-selling Pumpkins album to date. Regarding the disappointing sales, Jimmy Chamberlin commented, "It was like watching your kid flunking out of school after getting straight A's for ten years.

The album received mixed reviews - Brent DiCrescenzo of Pitchfork Media heavily criticized the album's length, "Wall of Sound" production style, and Chamberlin's drumming. Others contend that Machina brought together the rock sensibilities of the Pumpkins' early albums with the atmospherics and lyrical maturity of 1998's Adore - Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times, infamous among fans for his sharp criticism of the Pumpkins' 1993 breakthrough album Siamese Dream, called Machina "an exceedingly impressive and hard-driving record."

Track listing

All tracks written by Billy Corgan.

  1. "The Everlasting Gaze" – 4:00
  2. "Raindrops + Sunshowers" – 4:39
  3. "Stand Inside Your Love" – 4:14
  4. "I of the Mourning" – 4:37
  5. "The Sacred and Profane" – 4:22
  6. "Try, Try, Try" – 5:09
  7. "Heavy Metal Machine" – 5:52
  8. "This Time" – 4:43
  9. "The Imploding Voice" – 4:24
  10. "Glass and the Ghost Children" – 9:56
  11. "Wound" – 3:58
  12. "The Crying Tree of Mercury" – 3:43
  13. "With Every Light" – 3:56
  14. "Blue Skies Bring Tears" – 5:45
  15. "Age of Innocence" – 3:55

International releases

Some releases—namely, European and Asian Hut Records versions, and all vinyl editions—have an added track, "Speed Kills". This version of "Speed Kills" is not the Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music version, but the version that appears on the "Stand Inside Your Love" single. On the international CDs, the song is edited to a cut nearly two minutes shorter than the original, and the last four tracks are resequenced. A Japan promo version has an extended version of "The Sacred and Profane" with two bars of electronic drum beat in the beginning of the song, and a slightly different mix of "Age of Innocence".

Outtakes

A number of songs were recorded in some form or another during the Machina sessions but did not make either Machina/The Machines of God or Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music:

  • "Autumn" (instrumental, not to be confused with the 1994 demo "Autumn Nocturne")
  • "Drain"
  • "Here I Am"
  • "Laugh"
  • "Lover"
  • "Death Boogie
  • "Winterlong" (later released on Judas Ø)
  • "Soot and Stars" (later released on Judas Ø)

Chart positions

Album

Year Chart Position
2000 Top Canadian Albums 2
2000 Australian Album Chart 2
2000 The Billboard 200 3
2000 Top Internet Albums 3
2000 New Zealand Album Chart 4
2000 UK Albums 7
2000 Danish Album Chart 16

Singles

Year Single Chart Position
1999 "The Everlasting Gaze" Modern Rock Tracks 4
1999 "The Everlasting Gaze" Mainstream Rock Tracks 14
2000 "Stand Inside Your Love" Modern Rock Tracks 2
2000 "Stand Inside Your Love" Mainstream Rock Tracks 11
2000 "Stand Inside Your Love" UK Singles Chart 23
2000 "Stand Inside Your Love" Australian Singles Chart 32
2000 "Try, Try, Try" UK Singles Chart 73

Personnel

  • The Smashing Pumpkins
  • Mike Garson – piano on "Glass and the Ghost Children"
  • Flood – producer, mixing
  • Alan Moulder – mixing
  • Bjorn Thorsrud – recording, mixing, digital editing, compilation, additional programming
  • Mike Zainer – mixing assistant
  • Bill Douglass – mixing assistant
  • Jef Moll – mixing assistant
  • Erin Piepergerdes – mixing assistant
  • Andrew Nicholls – mixing assistant
  • Howard C. Willing – recorder, mixing
  • Howie Weinberg – mastering
  • Tim "Gooch" Lougee – technical assistance
  • Scott Schimpff – technical assistance
  • Tommy Lipnick – technical assistance
  • Yelena Yemchuk – art direction
  • Greg Sylvester – art direction
  • Thomas Wolfe – art direction
  • Vasily Kafanov – paintings, etchings

References

External links

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