Celebrating one mother mother of a rock album
It stands to reason that what you know, or remember, of Monster Magnet is wrong.
That’s partly because their minor success in an unlikely era — an MTV hit as TRL was taking shape around Eminem, Limp Bizkit and Britney Spears — was one of those perfect storms of fluke success that doesn’t exactly lift a career. It did, however, possibly make your friends in D-Generation X shirts nod their head while making the sign of the bull horns chanting “space lord, mother, mother” in junior high, which is not zero cultural footprint.
Here’s my elevator pitch: White Zombie, for all their psychedelic run-on album titles and neon horror visuals, did not make good music. Monster Magnet is the real White Zombie: jerky-thick, bass-hammered stoner garage-rock with camp-psych lyrics that ate the pill they found on the floor and could make Beavis and Butthead their dancing bears. Despite whomever they may have been stuffed onto a tour with, Monster Magnet were never a metal band, except in the Iron Butterfly sense (they covered Grand Funk on 1992’s Spine of God). Their brand of shock is closer to Aerosmith than Marilyn Manson. Monster Magnet enjoyed the look of metal, the Satanistic fetishism, the overall bad-trip vibe. But riffs like Powertrip’s opening “Crop Circle” are effectively bone-simple chunks of Fun House revival. Matched with Dave Wyndorf’s Hendrixian blues-howl and mushroom-brained lyrics, they rule. Sometimes the simple math just goes that their biggest album rules the hardest.
But how did this happen? Just as The Strokes made the splash (crystallized as a threat by irate pop-punk snots Sum 41) but the White Stripes emerged as the careerists, Monster Magnet were briefly the national faces of a stoner-rock breakthrough before Queens of the Stone Age won the war as a popular franchise of decades. And that’s because none other than Joseph Kahn, one of the architects of the TRL era’s most iconic videos, from Backstreet Boys to Destiny’s Child to Mariah Carey, directed the clip for their breakthrough hit “Space Lord,” which also happened to be the very first video TRL ever aired on the countdown (it peaked at number seven).
VIDEO: Monster Magnet “Space Lord”
And it got there not because the band deserved more favorable comparison to Soundgarden but by tapping into one key facet of the Carson Daly zeitgeist: parody. Eminem and Blink-182 were inescapably visible at the time for their willingness to spoof the tropes of boy-band videos. But “Space Lord” managed a cool trick: A white rock band playing on Puff Daddy and Bad Boy’s shiny-suit era without making fun of Black people. Once the curtain lifts on the explosive chorus of “Space Lord” and we realize this otherwise conventional, ominously lit rock video just deployed shades, Vegas pyrotechnics, synchronized dancers, a fish-eye lens, and yes, the iconic suits, it’s less about the punchline of the “joke” than how fucking awesome this band looks in the stylish hip-hop aesthetic of the day.
Watching it 25 years later, the band looks incredibly cool and onto something exciting. They weren’t. After follow-up single “Powertrip” stormed mainstream rock radio and delayed follow-up God Says No underperformed (never a good sign when an American act’s album got a U.K. release first, just ask Kelis), the band returned to the respectable cultdom from whence they came while Josh Homme became the only household name in stoner rock. It’s arguable that Monster Magnet’s biggest worldwide impact comes from Marvel superheroine Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who is named after one of their most beloved songs and appears in the smash Deadpool films. The band still reliably makes good, Blue Cheer-style bangers like “Mindfucker.” But that’s where the factoids end. We’re here to celebrate the music itself on their lone masterpiece, Powertrip, which earned their brief spotlight by making all the right moves in re: humor and riffs.
The Stooges act of “Crop Circle,” the unrelenting gallop of the title tune, and the epic-length boogieing of “Space Lord,” — which also earned its notoriety for getting the imaginative pervo-weirdness of lines like “I drink from your tit and sing the blues everyday” censored by MTV — are a hell of an opening bid. “Temple of Your Dreams” builds on the “Space Lord” trick with Wyndorf’s soulful-Reznor enunciations on the roomier verse crashing into dense glam crunch as he screeches the chorus. Even on the band’s lo-fi eponymous debut EP in 1990 you can hear the underrated frontman’s full-body combustible energy through the speaker-rattling sludge on tracks like “Snake Dance” and “Tractor,” which deserves its definitive 1998 re-recording here for its bracing kick-drum energy and insane lyrics: “Got a knife in my back, got a hole in my arm / When I’m driving the tractor on the drug farm.”
That’s a schtick I admittedly never get tired of with these guys, because few artists who drape themselves in the whole devil-girl-porno and battles for supremacy between intergalactic sex gods thing actually evoke such cinematic splendor outside their merchandise and maybe, just maybe, their music videos. Not only do scenes like “when I don’t get my bath, I take it out on the slaves” conjure up whole miniature Game of Thrones sequences on a line-by-line (wink emoji) basis but they’re as scrambled as ‘90s Beck.
For all the sweaty, dumbass testosterone coursing through this thing (“Bummer” earnestly begins “You’re looking for the one who fucked your mom”), the images never make enough sense to commit to something as fully realized as misogyny. To wit: “So won’t you put my dick in plastic / And put my brain in a jar,” “The creature’s waiting for a battle in the ancient swamp / You pissing on the pyramids ain’t gonna move things along,” “Sucking love from wherever I can / Cashing Satan’s checks with my dick in my hand.” Pretty funny though, right?
That’s some Stereopathetic Soulmanure if I ever heard it, cross-bred with Mike Judge’s juvenile-pandering on bits like “You want to spank your demons and make them pay.” Most of the ballsweat here drips from Wyndorf’s thundering swagger, which peaks on the aforementioned seven-minute centerpiece: “I know life’s a bummer baby / But that’s got precious little to do with me.” But their grooves are almost as arresting, from the Morricone-indebted, handclap-assisted “19 Witches” to the bass-shaker-organ 1-2-3 of “See You in Hell,” which should’ve earned them a third airplay hit and proudly flaunts their home state by dumping a body at the Meadowlands that seems to come back to life later, “rising up from under a Jersey landfill.” These lighter moments have funk in them, a helpful oxygen from the molasses roar of “Atomic Clock” and extending the pleasures for very nearly the entire hour.
Few albums have actually succeeded in placing the listener right in the center of the tour-bus bacchanal, or making the descent to hell sound like such a good trade for all the acid-fueled orgies along the way. This is the sound of a band pissing off the gods and exclaiming “I’m never gonna work another day in my life,” which grounds the hedonism on Earth; I mean, that’s literally everyone’s fantasy. They make “see you in hell” sound like a party invitation rather than a threat. And that’s really all you can ask from rock ‘n’ roll.
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