Sunday, 20 October 2013

Monster Magnet - Last Patrol (album review)

Awesome cover artwork by John Sumrow.
It would seem that "Negasonic Teenage Warhead" changed everything.  It was their big breakthrough song.  No, not as big as "Space Lord", but it was the one which gained them wider attention.  I loved the song when it came out, but was at that awkward early-teen age where I was cagey with what I liked because it might not meet with peer approval.  But if anyone ever asked: yeah, I liked that song.  It wasn't until a couple years later though that I finally bought the album.  By that time, peer pressure was a fading, shameful and ugly memory and the band had a new one out called 'Powertrip'.  That's my side of the story anyway.  For Monster Magnet those pressures were felt during the creation of 'Powertrip', if not explicitly acknowledged.  A month's sequestered writing session in a hotel in Las Vegas spawned an album that largely did away with the band's psychedelic roots in favor of a more mainstream rock sound.  This trend continued for over a decade, all the way up until the band's 2010 album, 'Mastermind'.  But after embarking on a pair of tours in which the band played the 'Dopes To Infinity' and 'Spine of God' albums in their entirety during the interim, it seems Dave Wyndorf was reminded of what Monster Magnet fans really crave.  So here we have the follow-up to 'Mastermind' and a return to roots.

The album kicks off with a blast of understatement on "I Live Behind the Clouds", a song which cannot help but be compared to some of the band's quieter, subtler early material such as "Dead Christmas" or "Blow Em Off".  This opener is more of a languidly drifting signal flare than an explosive firework, but the report of its firing bellows loud and clear through the ears of the longtime fan.  The nine minute title track certainly sounds familiar, and yet, it's a sound not heard from the band over the past 15 years or so.  Just the very fact of its length seems to signal how much of a pleasure it was for Dave Wyndorf just to be free and get all spacey once again.  It's a style he wears like skin or black leather, what could be more natural?

And just in case there were any lingering doubt or unconfidence in the band's focus on psychedelia, they follow up with "Three Kingfishers", the song that has been most caught in my head during the past week.  I'm quite familiar with the Donovan original from 'Sunshine Superman', being a big fan of all of the Scottish singer/songwriter's first decade's worth of albums from his humble origins as the British answer to Bob Dylan to the expansive 'Cosmic Wheels' album, so it's surprising to hear the song here, and just how naturally it wears the cloak of heaviness.  It's not the first cover song Monster Magnet has ever done, they've also done justice to Sabbath's "Into the Void" and MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" just off the top of my head.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about 'Last Patrol' however has less to do specifically with the history of Monster Magnet and more to do with the recent history of popular music in general.  While melody and tune have lost their predominant place in the world of popular music, rhythm and beat have taken their place at the ends of the stately table.  The bulk of this album takes 'beat' and keeps it in the background where it ought to be, as a platform for the melodic instruments upon which to strut their collective stuff.  The beats are by and large reduced to a time keeping stomp, any relative complexity broken down into the essential and played repetitively.  And as I say these things, you should understand, I'm a drummer, I just think it's time to re-emphasize the musical in music, apparently Monster Magnet feels the same way and is willing to pitch in for their part in the greater good.  The CD comes with a pair of bonus tracks, one of which emphasizes this point.  "Strobe Light Beatdown" sounds like a 'Mastermind' sessions outtake.  There's nothing wrong with the drums on this track, they are fairly typical rock drums, they are quite busy and manage to build up a froth of excitement and yet are unremarkable all the same.  It becomes clear at this point that Wyndorf knows how to get more with less, and generate excitement on the strength of the musical ideas on the album, rather than simply relying on the drums to carry the bulk of the excitement duties with a lot of busy-ness.

'Last Patrol' and it's return to psychedelia is not a cynical case of an aging musician grasping desperately at what he thinks his old fans might like and trying to cash in or re-live past glories.  The heart is there, the soul is there on record and, notably, there's a freewheeling ease to 'Last Patrol' that comes from a band slipping comfortably back into a natural sound.  Dave Wyndorf remembers what made Monster Magnet great in the first place.  'Last Patrol' doesn't turn the clocks back.  After remembering the realities of personal development during bygone days, who the hell would want to?  What it does is display a band that remembers what they are.  Monster Magnet is back.  I mean, really back.  Back to making the kind of 'stoner' rock that tries substances with a little more visual punch.  Substances that folks like Hoffman, Huxley, Hicks and Hunter Thompson would approve of, Kirby powered acid.

Highlights include: "Last Patrol" and "Mindless Ones"

Rating: 4.5/5

1). I Live Behind the Clouds (4:26)
2). Last Patrol (9:24)
3). Three Kingfishers (4:34)
4). Paradise (4:31)
5). Hallelujah (4:13)
6). Mindless Ones (5:31)
7). The Duke [of Supernature] (5:00)
8). End of Time (7:45)
9). Stay Tuned (5:54)
10). Strobe Light Beatdown (4:26) [bonus track]
11). One Dead Moon (5:20) [bonus track]
Total Run Time: 1:01:00

Dave Wyndorf (Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards)
Phil Caivano (Guitar, Bass)
Bob Pantella (Drums)
Garrett Sweeney (Guitar, Sitar)

From: Red Bank, New Jersey

Genre: Psychedelic, Stoner, Hard Rock

Reminds me of: Dopes to Infinity, Spine of God, Superjudge, Spacemen 3

Release Date: October 17, 2013

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