As the drummer for Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Chamberlin churned out consistently solid riffs and fills that even today are instantly recognizable to anyone who ever turned on a radio in the 90s. While not particuarly innovative, his style nonetheless became an integral part of the sound of one of the biggest bands of the short-lived grunge era. With Life Begins Again, Chamberlin teams with prolific musician-songwriter Billy Mohler under the less-than-imaginative name of Jimmy Chamberlin Complex to deliver a collection of percussion-based songs equally weighted by hits and misses.
While Chamberlin’s drumming is certainly competent, it’s hard to build a rock album around a rhythm section. The bass and drums are very much at the forefront of every song, which can make for rather tedious listening, even for the most diehard aficionado. The guitar and keyboards seemed tacked on as almost an afterthought in many of the songs, making the music seem less the work of a band and more like an extended eight-track experiment.
Overall, the album is a tough listen, particularly the instrumentals – but that is not to say there aren’t a few stand-out songs. The driving title track is arguably the best on the album, with solid guitar work and a catchy tune. Catherine Wheel singer Rob Dickinson provides grungy vocals that add a bit of spark, and shows up again on the rather conventional “Love Is Real.”
In an odd but memorable turn, The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley turns out an amazing vocal performance with the slow, throbbing “Lullabye,” the only song on the album that sounds as if it could have come from Smashing Pumpkins in their heyday. On the other hand, Pumpkins fans who are looking forward to Billy Corgan’s vocals on “Loki Cat” are likely to be disappointed, as the driving bass of that track overpowers the singer, and the song itself is flat and forgettable.
The instrumental tracks are best ignored, with the exception of “Cranes of Prey,” which is saved by outstandingly heavy guitars that complement rather than compete with Chamberlin’s drumming.
It’s easy to lump Life Begins Again in with the never-ending string of solo projects gone awry, but the germ of an idea worth pursuing still manages to creep through even the most mediocre sections of the album. One certainly can’t give it an unqualified recommendation, but if Chamberlin and Mohler keep at it, there’s a chance that any sophomore effort could supercede what amounts to an essentially sub par debut.