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Music Review: Jimmy Chamberlin Complex – Life Begins Again

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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.

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  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/djradiohead DJRadiohead

    While Chamberlin’s drumming is certainly competent, it’s hard to build a rock album around a rhythm section.

    I would argue most great rock albums START with the rhythm section.

    Good review, though. I am curious about this album because I always liked Chamberlain’s drumming.

  • http://www.thebeautifullull.com Tom Johnson

    I agree on both points, DJRadiohead. Chamberlain’s a great drummer. And I’ve always said that if your drummer sucks, your band’s going to struggle. A good drummer can play down to a lesser band and even encourage greatness in them, but a crappy drummer will drag a band down because they have to play down to *him*.

    I had to stop listening to the White Stripes because of Meg’s horrible drumming and lack of ability to keep good time. At times it was like listening to the Shaggs’ drummer.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    wot’s wrong with the Shaggs’ drummer?

    ;-)

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/djradiohead DJRadiohead

    Tom,
    the only good thing I can say about Meg White’s drumming is that she has the good sense to stay out of the way (but you are right, her timekeeping is quite dreadful). Larry Mullen Jr. (while better than Meg) knows he can’t drum, so he stays out of the way. And I like both bands.

    Alex Van Halen should take a cue (SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, TAKE AWAY THAT MAN’S CRASH CYMBAL! PLEASE!)

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    i dunno…what White does fits in perfectly with the whole sound of the White Stripes.

    it’s a big, loud, sloppy, bluesy mess. fulla passion & stuff.

    they’re not tryin’ to be King Crimson or anything.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/djradiohead DJRadiohead

    Mark,
    I don’t disagree that Meg’s drumming does seem to ‘fit.’ But it’s still not very good (and yes, I am a White Stripes fan). The songs are still excellent, but a real drummer could breathe some more life into a few of those songs.

  • http://www.thebeautifullull.com Tom Johnson

    Mark: I love the Shaggs’ drumming . . . but because it’s so horrible – as is everything else!

    Meg White, on the other hand, really kills the Stripes for me. I want to like them, but her non-sense of time just irks me so much that I cannot listen. I know it’s big, sloppy blues, but she’s just too sloppy.

    I don’t know about Larry Mullen Jr. – what is his status among drummers? I always felt he was a really tasteful, minimal drummer, not a bad drummer. Maybe he’s not a technically stunning drummer, but the guy’s got a good sense of what’s appropriate and intriguing.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    interesting.

    i didn’t even notice that Meg’s drumming was suspect.

    not sure what that sez about me.

  • http://www.iamcorrect.blogspot.com Lono

    as an obsessive rock dork, I regard two as the best drummers in rock. I’ll leave out Peart because that is simply implied.

    the two greatest living rock drummers are Danny Carey (tool) & Jimmy Chamberlain

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple A. Stark

    Scott,

    I put this one up on Advance.net

    It’s something to do during my lunch break.

    Don’t forget to let your contacts know about the promotion there. Hundreds of thousands read it there.

    Thanks.

    Temple

  • drews

    This was the most horribly innaccurate review I have ever read. I was first confused like others when the reviewer said you cant base a rock album around the rythm section. Secondly, the instrumentals are where this album shines. The complex has created Jazz fusion with a better Rock:Jazz ratio than other fusion groups. When the bass and drums lock into a groove to let the Rhodes take a solo, The Complex create a smooth sound without compromising the rock edge. Plus you got to love the ring modulator on the rhodes. I think The original reviewer should stick to reviewing “American Idol episodes” in stead of showing his incompetence in reviewing real music.

  • Eric Olsen

    I can’t address this album because i haven’t heard it yet, but I totally disagree tha the msuic on American Idol isn’t “real”: how much more real can you get than singing, vocally naked, live, in front of 50 million people with everything on the line. that’s about as real as it gets.

  • http://wakeuptheusa.blogspot.com jdf

    singing, even a cappella in front of millions, is not real music. in fact, lyrics, in general, destroy the integrity of the medium.

    it’s equivalent to painting a masterpiece of symbolism, then painting the words which give it away right on top of the picture.

    you cannot, biologically, combine the lyrics and other instruments in your mind (so long as the lyrics are in your language). all humans (well, all animals) have an inate ability to pick language out of things – the reason people think they hear words in white noise, or when they hear records backwards. have you ever heard a noise, having nothing to do with speech, and thought someone said something? that is because your brain picks language out above all other sounds and if it even resembles speech you will pick it out first.

    now, this is not to say that i don’t like music with lyrics, because i do. just as i like salvador dali’s paintings, even though they’re mostly not technically good, in the definition of art. however, i do not look at a canvas with nothing but words on it and see art. i see literature. likewise, singing a cappella isn’t really music, it’s just poetry with different tones and inflections of the voice (ever heard a beat poet read?).

    just my take, anyway.

  • Eric Olsen

    interesing thoughts jdf, I would exactly reverse your theory however, and say that the human voice in song is the most elemental form of music extant

  • http://www.xanga.com/Grungefan Zachary Lisotn

    Yeah, but no one has even mentioned yet that the songs in American Idol aren’t written by the contestants. I would be far more impressed if the contestants performed there own music and lyrics on stage. Then it would be real, but I think something about writing your own music kind of goes against pop music as a genre.

  • BDM

    I think that lyrics add an incredible amount to a song, sure – if a song is written with bad lyrics then i feel it drags the whole thing down, even to the point where it is unlistenable – but with good lyrics with depth and meaning, it can lift it right up – making it more than just the music underneath.

  • dlevy

    Larry Mullin Jnr. not a good drummer!?~You should try listening to ‘The Fly’ on Achtung Baby or ‘Your Blue Room’ on Passaengers-simple but fantastic drumming.

  • JR

    jdf: singing, even a cappella in front of millions, is not real music. in fact, lyrics, in general, destroy the integrity of the medium.

    Eric Olsen: I would exactly reverse your theory however, and say that the human voice in song is the most elemental form of music extant

    Actually, if the voice is singing a wordless melody, there’s no contradiction here.

    jdf: it’s equivalent to painting a masterpiece of symbolism, then painting the words which give it away right on top of the picture.

    Yes. Well put.

  • aaron

    Whenever folks dis meg whites drumming it’s obvious they dont understand the white stripes purpose. Stripped down garage rock, blues and for that meg is perfect. It’s all been done before but the electric blues rock supergroups are more abundant than internet dorks.

  • I of the Mourning

    jimmy chamberlin, then danny carey, then jon theodore, then chad smith, then lars ulrich for invention and sound……..

  • me

    tre cool is one of the most overlooked great drummers.

    he know how to keep it simple yet u can see he is a mad skilled drummer, and fits every beat and sound to the advantage of the overall bands sound and lyrically he is the frontmans best friend. his drumming style kicks ass in my opinion.

  • Michael Mogg

    Horrible review, in my opinion, and that is why reviews are rather useless unless they are going to offer some actual valid reasoning for the opinions.

    “The instrumental tracks are best ignored…”

    Holy subjectivity, Batman. Take a piece like “PSA” as an example of what I believe is a good instrumental track: yes it begins slowly, but the song develops and progresses beyond simple percussion. It maintains a strong atmosphere that tells a story unto itself as much as any piece of classical music, which is anything but boring.

  • Jack

    Shit review does this dude know it’s a predominantly jazz fusion record and clearly he doesn’t know this by opening with saying that it’s a rock record. Before you publish shit reviews like you have at least know what genre the album is ignorant

  • Jack

    therefore is not a ‘rock album’ i’m only 22 but at least i know and can hear jazz elements predominently throughout the album. You obviously are one of the die hard grunge pumpkins fans who never listened to music outside the square and should stop writing bias and un-intelligent reviews.

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