Beginning a solo career can be rather difficult. For a drummer, it’s next to impossible. Phil Collins is the only solo musician I can think of off the top of my head who was a drummer and simultaneously sold a moderate amount of solo records. So it’s no surprise that Life Begins Again wasn’t a big album-I’m even less surprised that it only has 20 votes on sputnik. Jimmy Chamberlin was often regarded very highly for his drumming with The Smashing Pumpkins, being one of the few rock drummers to combine raw power and musical energy with jazzy technique and impeccable precision. His sound and style truly made the band what they were, and without his presence it was notable how hard the band had been hit (this is my defense for not being a big fan of Adore). After the Pumpkins broke up, the band members scattered in all different sorts of directions. While James Iha saddled up with A Perfect Circle, Billy Corgan and Chamberlin crashed and burned with the horrific Zwan project. After that band met its demise, Chamberlin had an epiphany; he was free. He didn’t have to rely on another person’s songwriting to be successful in the music world; he could write his own songs and be just as successful as his counterparts. While Jimmy Chamberlin Complex’s only record Life Begins Again never reached the plateau of success that it deserved, it is undoubtedly a fantastic and original piece of work that any fan of Chamberlin or jazz fusion should check out as soon as they can.
The album is essentially half instrumental and half lyrical, with the vocal pieces being sprinkled throughout the record while being spaced apart by groovy and fluid instrumental compositions. The album opens with the instrumental “Streetcrawler” which showcases everything about the band in a nutshell as well as Chamberlin’s technique and process. The song is a healthy and balanced blend of alternative rock and jazz, with dreamy keyboards floating across the busy, soulful percussion and spacey guitar flourishes. There are some vocals deep in the back of the mix, but no lyrics, which is a situation that actually is better for the Complex, as they prefer to let the music do the talking. Every musician here is extremely technically gifted, most notably Chamberlin, whose speedy and brilliant fills on tracks such as “P.S.A.” and “Streetcrawler” advance the songs forward with a strong rhythmic pulse. Also worth mentioning is bassist Billy Mohler, whose bass work is stellar on the slower “Loki Cat” and grooving “Time Shift”; he also contributes the vocals to highlight “Newerwaves”. This fantastic and gifted rhythm section lays the groundwork for every supremely brilliant moment on the record, while the rhythm section also sometimes gets the melody with its dreamy synths, also played by Mohler.
Also worth mentioning is how surprising it is to see Jimmy Chamberlin write such strong material. During the Smashing Pumpkins’ run, Iha and D’arcy contributed very few musical ideas, but when they did it was always worthwhile (i.e. “Farewell and Goodnight”). Chamberlin never got a single songwriting credit in his time with the band, so the fact that his music is so structurally sound and melodic is something to applaud him for. The best example of this comes on the beautiful “Loki Cat”. After the hectic “P.S.A.” Chamberlin slows down a bit for this lush number which features a vocal contribution from none other than Billy Corgan. The whole song just feels laid back and natural after the controlled musical roller coaster of the first three tracks. Corgan’s vocals are sublime, primarily due to the fact that he uses his lower-register range from the Siamese Dream days rather than the nasally shrieking of the Pumpkins’ latter period. Chamberlin’s interaction with the guest drummer on this track, his brother Paul, is also worth noting; the two mesh incredibly well, with each sharp tap of the cymbal bell, pop of the snare, and cascading tom rolls being placed perfectly in tandem. Mohler’s keyboards float gently over guitarist Adam Benjamin’s ghostly guitar hook, which lock in tight with the solid percussion. “Loki Cat” is undeniably the best song on the album and one of the best song either Chamberlin or Corgan have ever put their name on.
It just goes to prove how great Chamberlin’s writing really is. This album truly ebbs and flows seamlessly from one superb track to the next. Whether it’s the controlled mania of “P.S.A.” into the airy clouds of “Loki Cat” or the solid guest vocal performances transitioning into rapidly paced instrumentals, the album is paced extremely well, which is not surprising since Chamberlin’s key talent is timing. Speaking of vocals, the guest vocalists really hit the nail on the head. Other than Corgan, the album also features Catherine Wheel vocalist Rob Dickinson on the title track and “Love Is Real”. The title track is the most accessible song on the record, with Dickinson’s multi-tracked harmonic performance carrying the strong melody over one of Chamberlin’s signature ostinatos. “Love Is Real” is definitely more musically focused, with shifting time signatures and a strong emphasis on harmony, but the vocal performance is still solid, especially in the chorus despite the lacking lyrics. The one disappointment is vocalist Bill Medley on the track “Lullabye” which is the album’s lowest point. The lyrics on this track are rather childish and annoying, and sound like something anyone could write within 15 minutes. The vocals aren’t great either; Dickinson would have been able to carry the track better.
Jimmy Chamberlin Complex has only released one album so far, but it truly reinvigorated Jimmy’s musical career and got him back into performing, and now writing impressive material. It’s definitely a project more people should listen to. Their sound is rather accessible, the instrumentalists are more than capable, and they combine crushing alternative with airy jazz; what more could a listener want? This album truly is Chamberlin’s musical life beginning again, and I hope that a new release finds its way to us soon.
2. Life Begins Again
4. Loki Cat
5. Cranes Of Prey
6. Love Is Real
7. Owed To Darryl
9. Time Shift
11. Loki Cat (Reprise)