Back on Tracks; They were great. Are they still? New albums from AC/Steely Dan, Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis will tell.; Pumpkins need to grow up


Smashing Pumpkins is one of the most successful bands in the alt-rock world, with a string of platinum albums to its credit and near-universal name recognition. By almost any standard, songwriter and frontman Billy Corgan has become a full-fledged rock star, with all the benefits stardom conveys.

So when is he going to stop whining?

It's one thing to act as if you bear the weight of the world when you're a self-obsessed teen-ager, quite another for an alleged adult to pull the same stunt.

Nonetheless, Corgan and company seem just as poetically miserable on "Machina: The Machines of God" (Virgin 72438 48936 20, arriving in stores today) as they did on their 1991 debut.

And frankly, it's getting tiresome.

"Machina" purports to be a revitalization of sorts. Not only does it mark the return of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (who was fired from the band for drug abuse after the death of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin in 1996), but it also celebrates the Pumpkins' re-embrace of rock after flirting with electronica on its disappointing previous album, 1998's "Adore."

There's plenty of speaker-shredding guitar here, make no mistake. From the fuzzed out opening riff in "The Everlasting Gaze" to the droning roar that carries "Age of Innocence" to its conclusion, it's clear that the Pumpkins are cranked and ready to rock.

Yet for all the sound and fury, the songs pack surprisingly little punch. Some of that may stem from the near-impenetrable sound co-producers Flood and Corgan give the album.

The sound on "The Sacred and Profane," for instance, is so heavily compressed that it becomes an undifferentiated din, with guitars and drums bashing away as the vocal line drifts in and out of audibility. An impressive noise, signifying nothing.

Then again, given the inanity of the lyrics, maybe burying the vocals is smart. As ever, Corgan's lines have all the depth of high school poetry, all the profundity of greeting cards. "Rain falls on everyone/The same old rain," goes a bum mot from "Raindrops + Sunshowers," while "The Crying Tree of Mercury" has Corgan "waiting like a knife/To cut open your heart/And bleed my soul to you."

Somebody stop him before he writes again!

But the worst thing about "Machina" isn't the album's sonic excess or poetic pretensions; it's the utter lack of memorable hooks.

Even after a half-dozen spins, there wasn't a single song on this disc that stuck with me. All I could remember was the nasal whine of Corgan's voice -- hardly a reason to come back to the album.

Smashing Pumpkins

"Machina: The Machines of God"

(Virgin 72438 48936 20)

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