Before I get started I feel the need to point out that I am a Monster Magnet fan; I first heard them on a free tape around the Dopes To Infinity era. I first saw them (and then countless other times) on the Powertrip tour, I have driven hundreds of miles to see them and possess everything they have released.
So what? Well because as a long time fan I found the original release of Last Patrol passed me by. In fact I described it only recently to another Magnet fan as an album that could have set itself on fire and run around my living room and I would still struggle to remember it – he agreed by the way…
I love trippy Monster Magnet like Spine Of God and Superjudge, I like stadium rock Monster Magnet, Christ on a bike I love the much derided 4 Way Diablo, but Last Patrol did not stick with me at all on the first couple of spins and it perplexed me.
Although I was initially excited by the idea of Monster Magnet going back to the more psychedelic flavours of their early albums, the absence of long-time collaborator Ed Mundell was a bit of a blow. If anyone was cut out for this surely it was the man who helped the band carve out their sound for 18 years?
Having been placed in the position to explore Milking The Stars: A Re-imagining of Last Patrol it was only fair to go back and give Dave Wyndorf another chance to take me on his modern day cosmic Bullgod ride, or at least be able to see what the band have done.
Having read other reviews I was seemingly at odds which the majority of people who pronounced Last Patrol a return to form for Wyndorf and his crew, so I had to effectively throw out my impression of it and go back and view it with a critical eye in order to draw a proper comparison. Maybe I was harsh, maybe I was listening to too much thrash or the modern world had taken it’s toll on my attention span that day… and as a result I certainly appreciate the album more and parts have grown on me, but I still can’t say it blows me away.
So where does that leave Milking The Stars…?
Anyone who has read the promo background to this album will know that this is not a remix in the strictest sense but an album fuelled by the concept of ‘what if?’.
Lars Ulrich in Some Kind Of Monster asked the question, “When is a song ever truly ‘finished?” and certainly here Wyndorf explores that theme by taking the core of Last Patrol and asking “What if these songs were recorded in 1968?” “What would happen if I turned a pretty song into an angry one?” How would adding creepy organs and Mellotrons affect the emotional vibe of a song?”
The result is quite stunning and definitely strange, even by Monster Magnet‘s standards.
Milking The Stars… features a mixture of new songs, reworked live versions showcasing the debut of new bassist Chris Krosnik (Last Patrol and Three Kingfishers) that were recorded at the AB in Brussels and new takes on the previous material that sounds quite simply like nothing else around today.
New song Let The Circus Burn sets the tone with sinister atmospherics that give way to Hammond organs and swirling sounds. It is fitting that if the ‘Magnet were returning to the triply psychedelic sounds of the mid nineties why not throw themselves completely down the rabbit hole and create some kind of Hunter S Thompson style late sixties freak out? All the bells and whistles on the track actually disguise that this is a muscular instrumental work out that could have been born from an Acid laced jam session. The band work out in their new strange environment building the tension before the new take on one of Last Patrol’s stand out tracks The Mindless Ones ’68 bursts in sounding like The Doors reporting back from the frontline of the ‘Nam conflict.
Not quite as heavy and in your face as the original, the highly charged guitars and urgent pulsing of the bass that is reminiscent of some of their more anthemic tracks in recent years, has taken a back seat to organs and mellotrons giving it a heavy psyche feel and skews the upbeat track into an other worldly experience that will have you nodding your head and seeing silhouette dancers on kaleidoscope backgrounds when you close your eyes.
Paradise, a previously muted and introspective piece of spaced out emotion which seemed like on of the few I latched onto initially, becomes an echoey, sinister half spoken word freestyle skat like some piece of sixties sprechgesang beat poetry on No Paradise For Me that sounds more like an Alan Ginsberg rant.
The music on Milking The Stars… frequently reflects this style with tiny pieces of the core of the song with a rich, heady, hypnotic vibe that allows Wyndorf and the band to expand on the already often complex arrangements to create a sound that owes a huge debt to hallucinogenics and the freedom to explore. End Of Time (B-3) actually strips this back to just drums, guitar, bass and vocals using the new found instruments to accent and crank up the tension on an already up tempo number to riff off the theme and show the love for the likes of Iggy and the Stooges (albeit with some crazy flourishes).
The title track itself has obviously been written with the band focused in this mindset. Understated and almost Velvet Underground like, as it flirts on the surreal and the whimsical side but still retains traces of darkness as it meanders before giving focus to a lazy, winding guitar solo that conjures the illusion of swaying.
Just as you are starting to zone out and get lost, the new take on Hellelujah (Fuzz and Swamp) shakes you out of that trance with its stomp and rabble rousing refrain of ‘Move right into town’ that gets the blood pumping again but rather than being a complete dissection of the original, is just a different take on it.
I could continue to go on and compare blow for blow on Milking the Stars, making an already long review even longer but instead I will try to summarise as best I can; apart from giving a special nod to instrumental Goliath Returns which comes across like a Wah abusing early Black Sabbath off it’s face playing the Doctor Who opening title and the edgy, dream sequence video theme music take on I Live Behind The Clouds which is unsettling and strung out like the comedown from the highs of earlier.
If I thought Last Patrol was an enigma, then Milking The Stars… is a full on communication from the Twilight Zone; having found the freedom to break out of the stadium rock bluster, Monster Magnet had seemingly got themselves into since 1997’s Powertrip, this has inspired Dave Wyndorf to go back to the well and tear up all the rules. I mean who the fuck thinks it’s a good idea to create an album that sounds like it fell through a wormhole from the weird, dying throws of the Flower Power era? Well you already have your answer and you know what?
I actually think it’s great.
It has made me go back and appreciate an album I had written off; it is a review that has made me sweat about how and why I going to write about a band I am very fond of, because there is simply nothing like this around.
It’s weird, it’s kooky, but it’s enjoyable – there are tracks on it that I think are a much improved version of the original and there are takes that, whilst interesting, aren’t; but now I have an opinion on the album which would probably never have happened without this.
I remain on the fence about the source material, but if you are bored with the norm and want a retro influenced slice of psychedelic madness that is as refreshing as it is outside the box, then whatever your opinion on Last Patrol, or even Monster Magnet, then this is worth surrendering yourself to the cosmic trip at least once.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden