Smashing Pumpkins
Machina/The Machines of God (Virgin)

Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (Sony/Epic)

When it's done correctly, there is nothing more beautiful than a big, grandiose rock album. Of course, the ego which accompanies such bombast is always as detrimental as it is necessary. Sadly, the inevitable conclusion to a sky-high ego is a crushing return to earth.

Consider the strange career of [Smashing Pumpkins/Oasis], a band who made a great case for big-rock production with their breakthrough album [Siamese Dream/Definitely Maybe], released at a time when "hip" meant singing half-songs into a fuzzy four-track. They took their art even further with their next album, 1995's [Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness/(What's the Story) Morning Glory?], but it hasn't been the same for [Smashing Pumpkins/Oasis] since that landmark dropped. Inter-band turmoil, drug problems, and a lousy follow-up album later, [Billy Corgan/Noel Gallagher] finds himself in a strange new position: having to prove himself all over again.

With his band's new album, [Machina/The Machines of God/Standing on the Shoulder of Giants], he finds himself partially on the road to recovery. The album, a thick stew of tight power chords and desperate riffs, is an intentional and unabashed return to what made this band so popular in the first place. There are moments worthy of their '95 peak - ["Try, Try, Try"/"Who Feels Love?"], for example, is splendid psychadelia, dreamy but with a satisfying crunch. There are some absolutely terrible songs on the record, however , with the worst offender being ["I of the Mourning"/"Little James"], which combines remarkably stupid lyrics with nothing melodies. The other songs are neither as great nor as terrible as these two, which is fortunate: Coming off a terrible album, this consistently mediocre record is unquestionably a step, if not a leap, towards past glories.

Ratings - Machina/The Machines of God: 5/Standing on the Shoulder of Giants: 5

- Matt Bell


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