June 15, 2004

MONSTER MAGNET -- MONOLITHIC BABY!

Monster Magnet -- Monolithic Baby!.jpg

Cover tunes pad an inconsistent effort

The New Jersey-bred band Monster Magnet always seems to dance that fine line between stupid and clever.

Matching metal gestures and decadent themes with sonic guitars and intricate arrangements, MM has been a band that does things its own way, no matter if the masses approve or not. That spirit is the driving force behind its latest album, Monolithic Baby! (SPV Records).

The disc starts out with the hypnotic riffing and clunky piano of "Slut Machine." Don't expect a song with such a title to be a lyrical masterpiece -- Monster Magnet's forte during the past decade has been creating a big, heavy wall of sound that can bury lunk-head lyrics when necessary. Two songs later, "On the Verge" follows a much different approach. It's a less-bombastic track that takes an acoustic rhythm-guitar strum and matches it with inappropriate imagery, and the song culminates in a sped-up crescendo that doesn't end soon enough.

Luckily, by the next track, "Unbroken (Hotel Baby)," the band is back to its proper form. Lead singer Dave Wyndorf has a great gift for raising the choruses of his strongest material to instant shout-along familiarity. The chorus in this song features the type of hook that has listeners, whether they're paying attention to the lyrics or not, singing along by the second time it kicks in, thus making this song a standout.

On the other end of the spectrum is "The Right Stuff," a Hawkwind cover that is hands down the killjoy of the album. With its vocal distortion and unnecessary guitar screeching, it marks the midway point of the album by destroying what little momentum the band had built up.

What's worse is following a bad cover with another cover -- a take on David Gilmour's "There's No Way Out of Here." It's a far better choice of material and is delivered with the right amount of guitar interplay between Phil Caivano and Ed Mundell, but it should have appeared elsewhere on the album.

One element that has always set Monster Magnet apart from its other heavy-metal counterparts is the way the band sprinkles bits of psychedelic rock into the mix. On "Too Bad," MM's use of bongo drums and electric sitar provide such a sound, matching Wyndorf's toned-down delivery and feedback swirl perfectly.

"Too Bad" would make for a great closing song on any album, but there's more -- and the rest is just filler, especially the seven-minute-plus plod-fest "Ultimate Everything," which seems like a complete castoff and meanders on way too long, using the same basic rhythm. The band wraps things up with yet another cover; this time, it's The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs." It is a passable and interesting effort, bringing back the psychedelic vibe that worked out fine earlier. But as the lyrics say, "I am tired and I am weary," and unfortunately, the song becomes forgettable at the midway point.

But that's not all. The limited-edition version of Monolithic Baby! features a bonus DVD, which contains an uncensored video for "Unbroken (Hotel Baby)," as well as a not-censored-enough clip for "The Right Stuff." In addition, there are band interviews and two poorly produced bootleg performances, resulting in nearly 90 minutes of inconsistency in one package.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at June 15, 2004 02:15 PM
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