being one with God might make him the biggest star of all.
At first hearing, Machina comes across as a rebound album. Adore, the Pumpkins' 1998 record, was the kind of dud that every major band seems to need: A big, wrongheaded project, repudiated by all but diehard fans, the dud -- like U2's Rattle and Hum or Pearl Jam's No Code -- proves that a band is following artistic impulses. In the end, it provides liposuction for a band's bloated self-esteem.
In the mid-Nineties, when the Smashing Pumpkins became Lollapalooza-festival headliners and arena rockers, Corgan emerged as a bundle of fascinating contradictions: high-minded and cynical, humble and grandiose, earthbound and spaced-out. With a nasal, twerpy voice and a gawky presence, he was a frontman that only alternative rock could love, a nerdy guy whose alt-ego happened to be a ferocious guitarist.
But on Adore, Corgan sank sturdy melodies with lifeless rhythms, inscrutable lyrics and keyboard abuse. And instead of venting an inconsolable fury that adolescents could appreciate -- "Despite all my rage, I'm still just a rat in a cage," Corgan had yowled in 1995 -- he was now preaching about love and prayer, which weren't as much fun.
The band's drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, was fired for drug problems; he came back rehabilitated, but bassist D'Arcy quit, to be replaced eventually by Melissa Auf der Maur from Hole. Corgan, meanwhile, clearly set out to make Machina the anti-Adore. He rehired Flood, who had co-produced Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and he set out to keep things simple. The saw-toothed guitar riff and big beat that open Machina's first song, "Everlasting Gaze," are unironic signals that the Smashing Pumpkins plan to rock, and rock hard, before listeners notice the existential questions. "You know I'm not dead," he wails, as if he and his band are resurrected.
The songs go back to the basics of would-be hit singles: riffs, hooks, bridges, choruses, often with voice and guitar tossing the same short phrase back and forth. Corgan hasn't radically changed his songwriting; he still goes for anthems, riff rockers and dirges. But there are no more fantasy epics or muses named Daphne, and there's hardly a keyboard to be heard. Guitars rule: distorted electrics and hard-strummed acoustics, sitarlike drones and orchestral reverberations, tolling Pink