The title of Jimmy Chamberlin’s debut solo album, and for all intents and purposes that is what this is despite the `band name,’ takes on multiple meanings. For one, Jimmy Chamberlin Complex is the talented drummer’s rebirth from behind Billy Corgan’s shadow. On another level, this project could have easily stemmed out of Chamberlin’s need to truly express himself given that he almost died of a heroin overdose with fellow Smashing Pumpkin Jonathan Melvoin. The fact that he actually survived the overdose, while Melvoin did not, and then picked up the pieces after being fired from the band that brought him fame shows his strength of character. So what’s a former member of Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan to do when embarking on their own?
The answer lies in Life Begins Again, an album of blended styles and contributions that showcases how truly talented Jimmy Chamberlin really is. Those of us who heard the amazing drum intro to “I am One” from Gish knew it then, but we might not have known that he had such an affinity for jazz fusion. Both his father and brother played in jazz combos, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. And just like Jeff Tweedy is bound to always collaborate with someone named Jay, so, I suppose, Chamberlin is doomed always to work with Billys. Billy Mohler is his main collaborator on this album, sharing songwriting and rhythm track duties while also singing on “Neverwaves.” The two create intricate and full fusion sounds that mesmerize as well as entertain.
The highlights on Life Begins Again, among the songs with vocals at least, are the tracks sung by Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel. Dickinson takes on the title track and “Love is Real,” adding his rock singer flair to complete a worthy sonic package. Sure to get lots of radio play however is the track with the former Billy, that is, Mr. Corgan. Chamberlin played an early version of the album for Corgan and found that he was moved by an instrumental called “Lokicat.” He asked Chamberlin to write lyrics for it and just like that it becomes the best song on the record. It is dark, slow, and moody which makes it a perfect match for the two to work together again. There is a reprise of the song at the end of the album which lasts all of about a minute. Personally, I would have loved to have heard the song without vocals in its entirety.
Whereas one might think that a hard rocking drummer dabbling with a jazz/rock fusion on his debut record might be business suicide, Jimmy Chamberlin proves most people wrong. Rather than going on a Spinal Tap-like “Jazz Odyssey,” Chamberlin finds the perfect balance between free-form expression and tightly created pop gems. He could have easily tried to recruit vocalists for the entire record, thus further obscuring his talent, or he could have been overindulgent and just made a record by himself sans collaborators. Instead, the man with the Christ figure initials (another Life Begins Again reference maybe?) puts forth a musical triumph that hearkens back to the heyday of alternative nineties rock while at the same time looking forward to a new style altogether.
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