BEACHWOOD SPARKS, Beachwood Sparks (Sub Pop) Two years ago, near the Southern California corner of Beachwood and Sparks, four West Coast musicians—indie vets from notable

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Smashing Pumpkins: Do they suck?

BEACHWOOD SPARKS, Beachwood Sparks (Sub Pop) Two years ago, near the Southern California corner of Beachwood and Sparks, four West Coast musicians—indie vets from notable bands like the Lilys, Further, and Strictly Ballroom—held a sort of 1960s summit. Batting about influences that ranged from the Kinks to Buffalo Springfield, from the Beach Boys to Sonic Youth, they never actually entered the Peace and Love time machine, but rather cross-pollinated the sounds of that era with those of the upcoming new century. Early in 2000, at the intersection of Beachwood Sparks (the self-titled debut by this Los Angeles foursome), eight lanes of musical highways collide in a kaleidoscope of those sounds: spaced-out country lap steel, layered folk strumming, tripped-out surf jams, glistening 12-string guitar, psychedelic organ riffs, and four-part Moby Grape-flavored harmonies. The roads arrive from the sun-splashed beaches of California dreaming and cosmic hills eight miles high, as these sideburned, retro-garbed mop-toppers meet Gram Parsons in Sin City ("Canyon Ride"), go on a surfing safari at Haight-Ashbury ("Something I Don't Recognize"), and take Simon & Garfunkel to the Grand Ole Opry ("Silver Morning After"). Fourteen of the most original songs you've heard in years, from high above SoCal's barren deserts, through its serpentine canyons, over its white-capped waves, and straight into your living room. —Scott Holter

ENNIO MORRICONE, Cinema Concerto: Ennio Morricone Live at Santa Cecilia (Sony Classical) Forever known as the man who wrote the "Aieee aieee ahhh" theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ennio Morricone is also one of the most prolific composers in film history—which is the weakness of this collection. Beyond his signature '60s sound of reverb-drenched Duane Eddy-style guitars augmented with choral chanting, he never attained the heights of a Franz Waxman or Erich Korngold, whose best Hollywood scores stand alone as music. Performed at Morricone's former conservatory, this medley of hits would've worked better as a Las Vegas stage show. Then at least we could've enjoyed the spectacle of Bugsy, Cinema Paradiso, and Casualties of War being burlesqued with feathers and pasties (though this would have made the baffling omission of his scores from Red Sonja, The Thing, and Pia Zadora's Butterfly even more disappointing). The disc makes for an hour's worth of acceptable background music (a.k.a. underscoring), but you won't want to go back and hear any track again—just maybe rent one of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns instead. Yes, the hallowed GBU theme does makes a softened, reorchestrated appearance, but without Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach squinting at one other in wide-screen, what's the point?—Brian Miller

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, MACHINA/the machines of God (Virgin) One late night in LA, I emerged from a bar to spot Billy Corgan's black-clothed backside, his towering figure, and his shiny bald head. As he skulked off into the sparkle and glow of Sunset Boulevard, I had no desire to see his face and gain insight into how he was feeling, because we all know how he's feeling. Corgan's emotional turmoil churns through the Pumpkins' discography, from Gish to MACHINA. That's right, even after superstardom and the close of the '90s, Corgan's angst reigns on in the band's latest release, along with the Pumpkins' signature song types: rocketing, guitar-driven ditties; playful, pop-laced songs with a beat; and tracks choking on their own self-obsessed drama. Corgan sings in "The Crying Tree of Mercury," "I've been waiting like a knife/to cut open your heart/and bleed my soul to you/I did it all for you, you, and you/This is the sound I've been making my whole life." Poetic maybe, but is this supposed to explain his habit of tweaking songs so he can rerecord them on each successive album? Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' "Zero" has become "The Everlasting Gaze," and "1979" is now "Try, Try, Try." That's not to say the Pumpkins' musicianship has declined: Corgan and Iha's guitars jab and swirl as precisely as the flourish of a master's paintbrush, while D'Arcy (who's recently been replaced by Hole's Melissa Auf Der Maur) plays an assured bass and Chamberlin's a champ on drums after sitting out the soft thud of Adore's unpopular yet innovative electronic expedition. But with too many familiar-sounding tracks and too few treasures ("Radio," "Heavy Metal Machine," and "The Imploding Voice" deserve props), MACHINA resembles a seasoned magician pulling yet another rabbit out of his hat: It may be the fairy-violet of Corgan's imagination, possessing ruby eyes that burn with equal parts frustration and love, speaking through

myth only disillusioned teens can understand—but it's still a rabbit. —David Massengill

 
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