Friend and enemy of modern music

There are probably a few good reasons why the general media has largely passed on “critiqueing” Smashing Pumpkins’ Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music.

First, the band pressed it on vinyl, making any digital encoding of the music spotty at best. Second, the distribution of the album, although free, pretty much excludes anyone without (1.) high speed connections to the Internet, (2.) hard drives larger than 6GB and (3.) means of transferring these files to audio CD. Third, these tracks are leftovers from the MACHINA sessions — outtakes from a relatively recent release that may or may not have much historical value.

So, are the issues detailed a few paragraphs ago big stumbling blocks? The particular files I downloaded have very low levels, and on some tracks, it’s very easy to spot where analog and digital just don’t seem to agree. But a few tweaks on the computer and speaker volume knobs — figuratively speaking since a computer operating system really doesn’t have knobs — rectify these shortcomings.

As for acquisition of the album, sorry — you really do need high-speed access and a large hard drive. The Pumpkins released 25 tracks of music, which comes to more than 100MB of space.

Digital music has a great future, but one thing artists, labels and tech companies haven’t acknowledged is the gulf between have and have-nots. People will still need CDs if they can’t keep buying computers every two years. And convergence? Hell, the vision of broadband hasn’t even gone that mainstream.

But this is supposed to be an album review — what about the goddamn music?

Okay. So. Machina II. Good stuff? There certainly are moments.

If I read this correctly, the “album,” as it were, is really divided into three — two EPs and the album proper, all spread out over four vinyl discs.

The two discs that contain the album are the most cohesive set out of the entire work. The two EPs, on the other hand, feel like the outtakes they are.

“Cash Car Star” and “Let Me Give the World to You” screams “obvious singles.” It’s a pity neither song made it on a Pumpkins album proper. “Go” features James Iha on vocal, while “White Spider” goes for a Marilyn Manson-Nine Inch Nails vibe.

“Innosense,” on the other hand, sounded like something that was already written by the Pumpkins many times before. “If There Is a God” is nice if a bit pompous with all that reverb.

Since most of this music was born in the same sessions that produced MACHINA, Machina II pretty much sounds like that album. Not a bad thing at all, really — MACHINA is the most consistent album the Pumpkins produced since Gish.

In other words — if you really like MACHINA, you will like Machina II just as much.

At the same time, it’s difficult to perceive this album as little more than a companion. It certainly doesn’t feel like a proper follow-up, and for its price, it’s actually a pretty nice deal.