We gave it a C+
Intent on staving off obsolescence, the Smashing Pumpkins began signing autographs at record stores and playing surprise club dates before MACHINA/the machines of God was even released. This newly aggressive — or desperate — strategy is also evident on the album, which shelves the multi-textured forays into balladry and electronica of 1998’s ”Adore” in favor of a nearly nonstop barrage of buzz-saw guitars.
If the urgency to reestablish the Pumpkins isn’t obvious enough, auteur Billy Corgan makes it groaningly transparent in his lyrics: ”I’m not dead yet” goes the first line in the first song, followed on other tracks by repeated uses of living-dying metaphors and, in the unfortunately titled ”I of the Mourning,” the line ”I blow the dust off my guitars.”
The heavy-handedness is as bald as Corgan’s dome, and often just as unappetizing. Earlier Pumpkins snarl-fests had a ravaged grace, but these are a monochromatic bunch, and the album is more interminable than both brilliant discs of ”Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” combined. Corgan wants us to forget ”Adore,” since it didn’t sell well, yet ”MACHINA”’s highlights are those in which the band (Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin, and Melissa Auf Der Maur) picks up where that unjustly chastised album left off, with back-from-rehab drummer Chamberlin adding a harder backbeat.
”The Sacred and Profane” and ”Try, Try, Try” find Corgan again balancing beauty and ballast. But the more he tries to convince himself that the band still matters because they can ”rock,” the deeper in Corgan digs himself (”Heavy Metal Machine,” which amounts to Kiss for eggheads, is a prime example). He’s still a rat in a cage; this time, though, it’s of his own design.