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Thursday, November 23, 2017 
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Monster Magnet
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Monolithic Baby!
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Nearly halfway through the first decade of the new millennium, things aren't looking so rosy. Wars are fought on false pretenses, torturer dictators are overthrown by torturing troops, and there is seemingly no expectation anymore that our leaders in the West will ever tell us the truth, or even a close approximation thereof. On the home front, yuppies continue to happily drive their SUVs while the oil supply runs out, yet remain oblivious to the connection between their own omnivorous greed and the foreign adventures of their governments. Their spoiled and narcissistic children, meanwhile, endlessly yak on cell phones and groove to content-free pop music in an era where even Britney Spears is called an artist.

All of this is pretty depressing stuff for a thinking person like Monster Magnet leader Dave Wyndorf. Like his buddy Marilyn Manson, Wyndorf is equal parts Dionysian rocker and Apollonian philosopher, though too often in videos and in concert only the former quality has really come across: no doubt the finer points of Wyndorf's hyperbolic and satirical take on the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" culture of the West have often escaped some of his fans. But one listen to Monster Magnet's 1998 fin-de-millennium hard-rock classic Powertrip, the product of a period of exile and intense self-examination by Wyndorf, reveals a man whose lyrical skills put those of most other hard-rockers to shame, whether he's picking at the scabs of a diseased relationship, chiding stoner-rock slackers for their lack of vision and ambition, or critiquing a youth culture all too eager to buy into a pre-packaged lifestyle as sold to them by cynical CEOs.

With its leader perhaps stumped as to how to encore an album as perfect as Powertrip, Monster Magnet's output has slowed since those heady times of critical and public acclaim: the follow-up release, 2000's God Says No, suffered only in comparison to the unwavering brilliance of its predecessor, and was beset by record company delays and screw-ups. After four years of silence, Monolithic Baby! finds the band on a new label, with two new band members in tow; joining Wyndorf (vocals, guitar and "vision"), Ed Mundell (lead guitar), Phil Caivano (rhythm guitar) and Tim Cronin (lights, "masterplan") are Bob Pantella (drums) and Jim Baglino (bass).

Perhaps spurred on by these recent changes, Wyndorf seems to have shucked off whatever creative ties were binding him, and gotten back in touch with his inner demon. Imbued with a gloomy worldview, Monolithic Baby! finds the New Jersey outfit mad as hell and ready to kick some ass, with Wyndorf again veering between Dionysian indulgence and Apollonian critique, sometimes within the same song.

The first two numbers here, however, find the singer totally preoccupied with matters of the flesh: "Slut Machine" leads off, a horny, maniacal masterpiece of mono-minded metallic inspiration, its simple but effective riff hammered home with an intensity that calls to mind Wyndorf's fave Motor City role models: The Stooges, The MC5, and the Amboy Dukes. The rocking "Supercruel" ups the butt-shakin' quotient further, as, true to the song's title, a nasty-sounding Wyndorf orders a rich female acquaintance to shut off the TV and "Come alive in the back of my trailer/ Come alive when you're carving my wood."

"On the Verge" finds Wyndorf turning his attention to world affairs, opening ominously with a strummed acoustic guitar and a subtle piece of Dubya-baiting:

"Looks like snow is gonna fall
And I'm just waiting at the station,
Hey brother have you got the time
To share a cup of radiation?
Looks like big dog is on the move
Tellin' the little doggies what to do
Hey sister, have you heard the news?
Gonna be a better place for me and you."

Moving from its initially dark, almost gothic vistas to a rousing speed-metal climax, with Wyndorf repeatedly howling the incantation, "Take me Jesus, take me Allah, rape me in my room/ Torch our days in paranoia as we gorge ourselves on gloom," "On the Verge" is a bona fide Monster Magnet classic, and along with "Radiation Day" and the title track, forms the thematic core of the album.

"Radiation Day" finds the band pillaging a few riffs from those favorites of stoner-rock types everywhere, Black Sabbath (by way of their more recent disciples, Pantera), as Wyndorf spews anti-corporate venom ("They got a pill that'll guarantee you a hard one") and Mundell offers up a searing Iommi-esque solo straight out of Sabotage. "Monolithic" veers over to a more bass-heavy, Stooges-styled "loose" groove, with Wyndorf this time excoriating not the fat cats themselves, but instead the narcissistic generation of young consumers too brainwashed to even question corporate culture:

"You're from the soft generation
Like a doggie with a bone
You like your lame fuckin' music
You love talkin' on your phone
You're stone monolithic
I smell it on your breath
You got about nothing to say
So buy your stupid garbage
And love yourself to death
Till daddy takes your T-Bird away."

Not one to let himself off the hook, Wyndorf turns his critical gaze inward on the catchy, hard-riffing "Unbroken (Hotel Baby)," in which he satirizes the very Dionysian "rock-star" lifestyle of which he has heartily indulged in the past: "Come on back to the hotel baby, " he sings, "I can be what you want me to be/ You can choke on your own medication/ I can watch myself on TV." Such self-loathing sentiments could have come from Pink Floyd's existential classic The Wall, and the Floydian vibe here only increases with a cover of the angst-ridden "There's No Way Out of Here" — from Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's eponymous, underrated debut solo album — with its recognition that in the material world "There's no time to be lost/ You'll pay the cost/ If you say no." "Too Bad," a laid-back kiss-off to an ex-flame featuring bongos (!) and "Eastern"-sounding instrumentation, and an update of the Velvet Underground's exotic classic "Venus in Furs" (love that backbeat!) draw together the themes of sexuality and paranoia that pervade Monolithic Baby! as a whole.

Overall, while not a perfect album — songs like "Master of Light" and "Ultimate Everything" seem a tad formulaic and slightly out of place, a sop to fans of the band's "space-rock" era pre-PowertripMonolithic Baby is nevertheless a strong comeback effort for Monster Magnet, for the most part a consolidation of the things the band does best. In these "stone monolithic" times, those who still believe that mind and the body shouldn't be mutually exclusive entities when it comes to rock 'n' roll will be heartened to find out that Dave Wyndorf still feels that way, too.


by Johnny Walker (Black)




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