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Machina/The Machines of God is The Smashing Pumpkins‘ fifth studio album, released on February 29, 2000. A concept album, it marked the return of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and was intended to be the band’s final official LP release prior to their first breakup in 2000. A sequel album—Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music—was later released independently via the Internet.
As with Adore, Machina represented a drastic image and sound change for the band. Nonetheless, Machina, like its predecessor, failed to reconnect The Smashing Pumpkins with chart-topping success. However, the band’s tours in support of Machina, entitled Resume the Pose and The Sacred + Profane, were far more successful than the Adore tour, as fans responded to the return of Chamberlin and setlists that included far more of the Pumpkins’ back catalog.
The recording of Machina was unusually secretive, in contrast to the sessions for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore, both of which were partially filmed. Much like Mellon Collie, the songs were first tracked acoustically at Sadlands in late 1998 before the band set to work on them at Pumpkinland and the Chicago Recording Company with Howard Willing, Bjorn Thorsrud and Flood. Corgan described the recording process for Machina:
“ This record was a lot of fun to do, and the writing was incredibly easy. We spent most of the time trying to take the songs as far as they could be taken down a particular avenue. So if it was gonna be proto cyber metal, we tried to make it very proto and very cyber. If it was acoustic, then we tried to not fall into the (typical) ballad-y kind of aspects. That’s where we spent most of our time. The songs were probably written in about a day. ”
The band took a break from recording in April 1999 to embark on the Arising! tour, which took the band to eight small clubs. At the tour’s conclusion, D’arcy Wretzky left the band. Flood remembers,
“ Billy and I thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’ We decided that we were going to have to make a very different kind of record. They saw out their time on the tour, and after that we pretty much went back to the drawing board. Certain songs on the record are survivors from that first period, but it meant a shift in the ways songs had to be formed. ”
Interviews at the time claimed that Wretzky had “completed her work” on the album, but the extent of her contributions on the final album are unknown. Corgan later downplayed her role in all Smashing Pumpkins recordings.
- “Autumn” (instrumental, not to be confused with the 1994 demo “Autumn Nocturne”)
- “Death Boogie”
- “Here I Am”
- “Soot and Stars” (later released on Judas Ø)
- “Winterlong” (later released on Judas Ø)
Although Machina is much more story-based than previous releases, which have sometimes hinted at concepts, it is not a story album in the vein of Tommy or The Wall, but is much more open to interpretation. Corgan stated that many of the songs are written from the perspective of the band as the press and public viewed them, rather than Corgan himself. In this vein, songs such as “Heavy Metal Machine” are seen as parodies and homage to their influences and public perception. Nonetheless, it is a concept album, with a story about a rock star named Zero hearing the voice of God, renaming himself Glass, and renaming his band The Machines of God. Fans of the band were referred to as the “Ghost Children,” which has now become a term for Pumpkins fans. This story, while planned thoroughly by Corgan (see image), was only implied in the album’s lyrics, and was greatly expanded via the liner notes in both Machina albums, additional writings posted to a weblog entitled “Chards of Glass”, and, later, an animated web series.
According to Billy Corgan, the original plan was to stay in character as The Machines of God throughout the record’s promotion. He explained, “When the re-formed band agreed to the concept in October of 1998 as a way to bring the band to a close, everyone agreed to ‘play their part’ all the way down the line. I never envisioned that D’arcy would leave in April of ’99, and that subsequently the 3 of us would try to finish. This put a stress obviously on the full integrity of the project. Because it was connected to the band not only bringing the music to fruition fully, but also the public component of being in character. I ended up in a broken band with a half-ass enthusiasm towards finishing a project already started.”
The booklet artwork loosely tells the album’s story through a series of plates featuring medieval-style paintings and text presented in a printing press font created by Vasily Kafanov.The heavily symbolic artwork references the subjects of alchemy, chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, semiotics, mysticism, spiritualism, and art. “I of the Mourning” is the only release from the album that did not include cover art by Vasily Kafanov. The album was nominated for a 2001 Grammy for Best Recording Package.