My love affair with Monster Magnet began when I saw them as part of Metallica’s Big Day Out in 1998, they were a ray of dark nihilism on a sunny day and Dave Wyndorf was a grumpy little space lord that day. I remember him moaning about playing in daylight, about the sound and about having to play such a short set, but in between a certain amount of cosmic whingeing Monster Magnet played a brilliant set mostly taken from Dopes To Infinity and Powertrip. I remember the melodies and the dynamics of the songs and the whole ‘Space lord, motherfucker’ sing along. I got Powertrip straight away and just devoured it, but Dopes To Infinity is my favourite one. It took me 6 years to upgrade my CD to plush double vinyl, but hey they don’t call me 1537 for nothing.
I quickly came to realise that stoner rock was the one for me, that marriage of whooshy space noises, big riffs, Jack Kirby comic-inspired sci-fi imagery, the thrill of vicarious heavy drug use and strong sense of tongue-in-cheek humour, could just have been factory made for me. I couldn’t get enough for about 5 years and listened to very little else.
Kicking us off with ‘Dopes To Infinity’ I was just in space piggy heaven. I love the way this song is so stately and slow, the change-up in melody for the chorus gets me every single time I hear it,
We are all here my friends
All dead and spaced but all so beautiful
We burn that mountain down
And always pump for peace when possible
The riffs are huge on this track, Ed Mundell is a hell of a player. As an opening track it really is a little stroke of genius as rock bands so often just reach for the fastest, most in-your-face number on the LP, but Monster Magnet stand aloof from the convention here and make a real unhurried statement of intent. But even better than that they bolt on my second favourite track here without any gaps at all, ‘Negasonic Teenage Warhead’ – yup, something tells me they’re not being too serious here. It’s an altogether different proposition and one I’ve bobbed up and down to at the front of their shows every time I could. It’s faster, almost poppier with some of Wyndorf’s best lyrics yet, it doesn’t matter that ‘strapped up freaks on a Lazarus plane’ doesn’t mean anything it just sounds great. It’s on this tune as well that we learn that he was ‘born and raised on Venus and I may be here a while’ – me too! on both counts!* More importantly, it just rocks.
All the tracks on this LP are great and so are most of the titles, check out ‘Look To Your Orb For The Warning’ and ‘Ego The Living Planet’ – a great track where at the culmination of several minutes of heavy, hefty riffing, screaming and wild theremin abuse Dave Wyndorf screams ‘I Talk To Planets Baby’ and means it. That’s the important bit really to me, this isn’t some hipster loon playing at spacetastic mentalism, he’d been there. The bulk of the LPs other tracks are variations on the theme of monumental riffs and spacemongery but there are some bewitching swerves here – ‘I Control, I Fly’ takes off for the hills like a sped up Stooges, the snide semi-acoustic ‘Blow Em Off’ and the brilliant, poisonous pop of ‘Dead Christmas’ which is increasingly one of my favourites here,
I crept up on my baby, I laid down on my town
I found a shrinking violet, I crushed it into the ground
I felt the heart of forever, I held it over my head
I said fuck you on christmas, and then they put me to bed
Sorry, I just have no real objectivity here at all, I’ve just listened to this far too much to judge it, it’s in me. One constant throughout is that Monster Magnet have a real lightness of touch and melody, there’s far more going on here than skull-cracking space-riffery which would be great but I’d never really get beyond 4 songs. They’d look to vary it up even more on 1998’s Powertrip, with sometimes mixed results but they really get it right here for my money. The production is just right too, shared between dave Wyndorf and steve Rosenthal, it paints all the songs in nice big, comic strip-style primary colours.
There’s even a vinyl bonus track too a cover of ‘Forbidden Planet’ and by that I mean a cover of the squeaky, squealy original electronic soundtrack (which I own separately but find difficult to listen to). Ah well.
As a 1537 bonus I also own two shaped-picture discs, hey you HAVE to love shaped picture discs, of Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Dopes To Infinity, which are mushroom cloud and Dave Wyndorf’s head-shaped respectively. There is something deliciously wrong about irregularly shaped objects on your turntable, or am I just a vinyl fetishist?** Dopes… comes with a great cover of psych obscurity ‘I’m Five Years Ahead of my Time’ (originally by The Third Bardo) and Nega… has an unreleased track called ‘Eclipse This’, which is a really good rocker / guitar freak out which would not have sounded out-of-place on the LP at all.
Anyway I’m out of here. I know some prefer the band’s heavier, druggier, psychedelicier early LPs and, hey I like them all, but Dopes To Infinity is my favourite at the moment. If you fancy nodding, smiling and playing a bit of occasional air guitar then get this. As the great man said on ‘I Control, I Fly’,
Squeeze the back of my head now babe
Say the words just right
Slide the praise of the pneumatic monkey
Like your mom last night
You’re in a gada-da-vida honey
Take a bit of the cow
We can piss on a fake revolution
God is telling me how
Here endeth the lesson.
*three years later on ‘Crop Circle’ we learned that he ‘was born underwater, I dried out in the sun’ – they can’t both be right.
**that’ll pull in a few soon-to-be-disappointed one-handed browsers into my web!