Quite a while before it ever became as huge of an issue as it has since become, I was running a search on the Smashing Pumpkins on Napster, to see if there were any live tracks or decent remixes to download. And a number of songs came up in the search that I had never heard of before. This was still back in the days when The Everlasting Gaze was just barely starting to get radio airplay, but I recognized that song out of the mix. I had already downloaded four or five of them before I put two and two together, and realized that I was actually downloading the entire album Machina: The Machines of God over a month before its official release. Which is the only aspect of what some people condemn as "digital piracy" that I felt the slightest tinge of remorse over, but I kept my mouth shut.
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Realizing much more fully the scope of Napster, I quietly enjoyed this sneak preview of sorts. It allowed me the opportunity to form my own, unsullied opinion of the music, without having heard any kind of advance word about what kind of music it was. I'm grateful for that; I was living overseas in 1998 when Adore came out, and so had no idea about the somewhat negative buzz that the media gave out about that album, which I have as a result grown quite fond of. I was able to do the same thing with Machina: The Machines of God, for which I'm grateful.
My first and most immediate observation was to notice how much static and distortion there was throughout the majority of the album. I thought that when I first heard The Everlasting Gaze on the radio, but attributed that to the fact that the radio in the car isn't that great. Then, when I noticed a similar pattern in many of the other songs, I decided it must have been the MP3 quality, which I had downloaded at just a 128K bit rate, which is generally just FM-radio decent.
Apparently that's just the way the music was recorded. It was only a minor irritation, though: SP music, for me at least, has never been about either immediate or obvious beauty. Rather, it has always been about a kind of raw, emotional beauty that unfolds over time. If it was about immediate catchiness and listening pleasure, then it would have been over years ago by sheer virtue of Billy Corgan's nasal voice.
So, as with all their other albums, Machina: The Machines of God is an album that needs to be listened to quite a few times before one can fully appreciate it, for its range of style (which is what makes Smashing Pumpkins great), and for Billy Corgan's wonderful sense of emotional vulnerability, honesty, and rage.
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