Machina/The Machines of God

breaking-bad-cartoon-wallpaper-hd-wallpapersAfter the unusual, and much less successful Adore Jimmy Chamberlain returned to the Pumpkins and they obviously began to dream big again. The Machina project was originally envisioned by the band as a double-album heavy on concept. However due to the poor reception of Adore the label only allowed it to be released as single-album. There was a whole concept crafted around the record which saw the band made into cartoon characters but the whole story was never fully completed and there are only bits and bobs floating around as to what this was all about.

Musically Machina marks a further departure in style from the music that brought them mainstream success and the sound is more electronic based than even Adore. There is, however, heavier music to be found here than on it’s predecessor. The opening track, The Everlasting Gaze, is one of the bands heaviest songs with a great guitar riff but it also shows how production has become the main focus of Corgan’s vision as the sound is much less raw and in a way less real than their old style and while still a good track it lacks a personal feel that they always used to have. There is nothing inherently wrong with Machina, it’s still an album that deserves to be heard but its clear that the record was made without a clear aim, as the band was falling apart during recording and the concept was never fully realised people were reluctant to buy into it.

While you could not call Machina a poor record it was made during troubled times for the band and is probably the groups weakest effort overall. However it was never given the chance to be released as Corgan had intended it to be and perhaps it loses out because of this, as Corgan is working on remastering all the old Pumpkins albums and promises that this Machina package will be re-released in its complete form we may have something much more interesting on our hands.

Pisces Iscariot

Smashing_Pumpkins_-_Pisces_Iscariot_-_frontMy next Pumpkins review takes me to the unusual grounds of Pisces Iscariot. The album that isn’t really an album. Pisces Iscariot was actually just a mix tape of some b-sides and covers and things that was put together for the die hard fans at the time. But the record ended up earning platinum status. When listening to the album its not hard to figure out why. It was made during the bands prime, released in between their two biggest and best albums and captured more of the magic of a band who, in my opinion, are on of the greatest of all time.

The album never feels as though it’s a collection of songs, it holds its own sounds like an album that was made to be an album. It features a number of favourite tracks the Pumpkins have ever done. A Girl Named Sandoz is a cover but has become one of my favourite Pumpkins tracks, also their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide gives the original a run for its money. In terms of original material on the record the versatility of the tracks go some way to showing you how diverse a band the Pumpkins were flowing from the calming Soothe into the distorted grunge of Frail and Bedazzled is just the beginning of an unpredictable collection none of which disappoints.

The 2012 re-release and re-master of the album has come under a bit of criticism as there apparently some sound quality issues on some of the tracks, to my untrained ears I didn’t notice anything though to be honest. And with the box set you are also treated to a DVD of the groups first ever TV performance which includes a  number of early tracks I’d never heard before and are actually awesome. Overall Pisces Iscariot is very close to being my favourite Pumpkins record there is, an amazing achievement for a mix tape.

 

Siamese Dream

smashing-pumpkins-siamese-dreamContinuing with my Pumpkins series we move on to 1993’s Siamese Dream. The album that saw them rise to be alternative rock God’s known all over the world. The album is to this day regarded as a seminal work, and one of the most influential rock albums in history. I’m going to give it a go at describing why its just so damn awesome.

From the moment the record burst into life with opening track ‘Cherub Rock’ its clear that the band have changed since Gish, not only because of better production values, but the overall feeling of grandeur is amped up so much higher. The music has a much more immersive feel. You can also notice change in how much more willing they are to be weird, they forget conventions which I feel may have been holding them back during the Gish-era and go their own completely unique way. The whole album has such unique sound, no record ever has ever sounded quite like it and that, therefore sets out as part of an elite group of albums. As well as creating the feeling of grandeur, that was later to amplified further with Mellon Collie, they still retain their ability to be utterly angst-ridden and melodramatic, with the anthemic ‘Today’ or even the reflective, melancholic ‘Disarm’. The album has a grungy sound but it is so much more than grunge, it makes grunge all the more awkward and less relatable than Nirvana or Pearl Jam.

It, simply put, is one of the greatest albums of all time and I will always love it with all my heart.

 

Amok

AtomsforamokAtoms for Peace are a new supergroup that includes Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Flea of the Chilli’s, Joey Waronker of Beck and R.E.M., Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and percussionist Mauro Refusco. They’ve been around for a little while, orignally getting together for Thom Yorke’s solo touring then they released Judge, Jury and Executioner way back in 2009. No one really knew what was to come of them but they kept on going releasing the first official single Default in September 2012 having claimed they were finishing off an album all the way back in September 2011. But it hasn’t been until this week that Amok has finally materialised.

It’s not a world away from Radiohead, Yorke’s falsetto vocals are always going to create a certain feel no matter what band he’s in and with the inclusion of producer Nigel Godrich the impeccable, understated sound that makes Radiohead records so great is apparent here too. But there are differences elsewhere. Flea’s basslines bring a new flavour to the sound often forming the base of the tracks particularly in Dropped and Before Your Very Eyes… His influence on the record as a whole, not just in the bass parts, is clear too there’s a constant feel of funk that isn’t really there on a Radiohead record. It’s helped along by the combination drums and percussion both of which are produced to perfection as they ripple away underneath the sparse musicality that is over the top.

There is not one track that’s a let down, there’s not one track that isn’t a great song and it’s hard to pick out stand-out moments because it’s all so good, my only qualm would be that it’s only nine tracks long, it leaves you wanting more but really that can only be a good thing. An early contender for album of the year.

 

Opposites

biffy-clyro-oppositesThe time has finally come, if you’ve been following the blog you will have seen that in the build up to this release I’ve been reviewing all of Biffy Clyro’s albums and now we come full circle; to the reason all this hype began, the Scottish trios new double LP Opposites. Now the only question left to answer is whether the album lives up to expectations?

Everything kicks off with Different People which starts off softly before bursting into a windy, ripply guitar heavy track, its a strong opener that sets a tone for the whole record which makes a point of mixing light and shade, obviously reflected in the title. One of the big claims the band made in the build up to the album was that it should have material to keep the old and the new fans happy, effectively incorporate all their previous styles into this one record. On first listen it may be that this album is a million miles away from their old stuff but on repeat listens it becomes clearer that there’s sprinkles of their old heaviness throughout. Black Chandelier for example features a solo that wouldn’t have been out of place on Infinity Land. There’s bits that sound like Blackened Sky too, the chanty choruses of Picture a Knife Fight or Victory Over the Sun. The orchestral elements that have been a part of the band’s work since Vertigo of Bliss is apparent in Opposites in it’s most complete form yet making it the most epic sounding album they’ve ever made surpassing even Puzzle which was their previous best in terms of scale.There’s improvements on the poppy sounding pieces familiar to that of Only Revolutions Little Hospitals being a one example and one of my favourite tracks of the whole album.

When stacked up against all their old albums I think Opposites stands up very well among all the bands previous efforts perhaps not reaching the heights of their masterpiece to date, Infinity Land, but certainly improving on both Only Revolutions and Puzzle and there is certainly more here for fans of the old stuff, with Opposites the choice to have it as a double album has really worked in the bands favour giving them the opportunity to put out a more holistic record painting a more complete picture than their last effort. Biffy have done it again.

 

Only Revolutions

OnlyRevolutionsSo Biffy Clyro’s new double album, Opposites, will be upon us in exactly twenty days meaning the time has come to review their last studio effort, Only Revolutions and thus leave you with a review on every Biffy album to date. Released back in 2009 Only Revolutions had the almighty challenge of following up the bands most successful album, Puzzle, making it their first release as a huge commercial band. They had the task of pleasing their old fans and new ones in an album that was expected to be a big commercial success.

It has since become the bands biggest selling record further cracking the mainstream and bringing the Scottish trio to the forefront of British music. It received good press as well, the album has a score of 79 on Metacritic and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in its year of release which further boosted its sales. Despite all this, though, I have to say it is my least favourite album of theirs. My friends who knew back when this came out may call a hypocrite now because when it came out I made a rather rash statement that it was their best but like me explain how my mind has changed over time.

Biffy’s first three albums all had a much more raw underground sound that gave their music a lot more depth making it more rewarding on repeat listens. With Puzzle a lot of their more heavy sounds were no longer present but the record itself worked as a whole better than anything they’d done before which sort of made up for the lack of hard rock. Only Revolutions on the other hand, seems as if the heavier stuff is still missing and the album is not as much a complete piece as Puzzle feels. It is their only album of theirs which has some dud tracks such as Many of Horror and Know Your Quarry both of which are bland and far too normal to portray Biffy’s famous awkwardness, perhaps pushing the band in a more mainstream less interesting direction. Having said that there are tracks here as well that are quite the opposite fully showing how weird the group can be making for much more interesting and unique listening, Born on a Horse, Cloud of Stink and Whorses for example but all of which still lack the real visceral punch that was present on Infinity Land and its predecessors. It comes as a surprise as well that despite said tracks giving you a bit more of a taste of authentic Biffy the stand-out track is the acoustic track God and Satan a song which features some of Simon Neill’s most interesting lyrics to date but it seems a shame that a band I previously loved for their heavy tracks have lost a certain edge making the album as a whole feel disappointing.

From some things I’ve heard from Opposites I think we can expect a good mix of old and new Biffy styles, perhaps the choice to make it a double album will provide the band enough scope to fully flesh out both of their creative sides, perhaps Opposites could be the bands true masterpiece, we shall have to wait and see, watch this space for my review once the album’s out…