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The Smashing Pumpkins: Machina II: The Friends And Enemies Of Modern Music

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At the end of The Smashing Pumpkins' epic going-away concert, Billy Corgan declared, "Music overcomes all the bullshit." But the statement came in the middle of a stream-of-consciousness rant that took up most of a sloppy, 35-minute rendition of "Silverfuck," illustrating how Corgan's antics often constituted much of said bullshit, periodically obscuring his achievements as a musician and songwriter. In fact, The Smashing Pumpkins' de facto status as one of the world's most popular rock acts constantly drew undue attention to its decline as a commercial juggernaut, even as Adore and MACHINA/The Machines Of God demonstrated creative growth. Likewise, Corgan's announcement of the band's demise drew attention from what could prove to be one of The Smashing Pumpkins' crowning achievements: Machina II, an album's worth of studio-quality outtakes and three EPs that Corgan asked a handful of friends to distribute for free over the Internet. A world-class band giving away more than an hour of strong material is historic in and of itself, but Machina II also holds up artistically. Purportedly drawn from the Adore and MACHINA sessions, the disc reflects Corgan's obsession with dream-pop, Cure- and Depeche Mode-styled synth-Goth, and glam-tinged heavy metal. But Machina II is not only far more cohesive than the sprawling double-album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, but tighter than the initial MACHINA. The album opens with the hardcore blast of "Glass' Theme," followed by the propulsive "Cash Car Star" and the stomp of "Dross"; those three songs are more intense than most of the band's commercial releases. The My Bloody Valentine haze of "Real Love" and James Iha's characteristically subdued "Go" are even more striking. Most shocking may be "Let Me Give The World To You," which is prettier and more accessible than virtually anything the band has done, while "Home" recalls U2 at its most sweeping. The collection's remainder is similarly strong and no less diverse, even providing a wink of humor on the "Ziggy Stardust"-quoting "If There Was A God." Corgan and his big mouth have made for an easy target, but now that the band is (apparently) gone for good, its legacy becomes clear: The Smashing Pumpkins ended on an artistic high, not a commercial peak, a satisfying indication that its arty bombast may really be missed after all.