Can Monster Magnet Save Rock? Print
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 06 June 2001 18:00
Dismiss Monster Magnet at your peril. It’s certainly not difficult, but it’s unwise. The band might be all that rock and roll has left. The five-piece New Jersey outfit has taken the Black Sabbath/Led Zeppelin torch that Soundgarden carried in the early 1990s and stripped the 1970s-style heavy metal of its grungier self-loathing and self-importance of the past decade. By re-claiming heavy music from rap metal and what passes for “alternative” these days, Monster Magnet might just be the savior of good ol’ rock and roll.

Monster Magnet’s leader, singer/guitarist/keyboardist/producer Dave Wyndorf, disagrees. “Culture saves rock,” he said in a phone interview. “Right now, culture is confused. That’s why kids pick simple things” – and by that he means everything from Limp Bizkit to the Backstreet Boys. They wear the same clothes. They wear the same hair. They’re the same, Wyndorf claims. “They don’t know,” he said. “They think they’re cool.”

It’s not that Monster Magnet isn’t simple in its own way – check out the band’s show at The Pig Pen’s Pigstock on Friday night for evidence. But (and this where the discussion threatens to turn Monster Magnet into Spinal Tap) the band has a sophisticated way with largely unsophisticated music; it’s the smartest dumb music you’ve heard in a long while.

Monster Magnet is proud to traffic the vaguely menacing science-fiction comic-book nonsense that has so captivated teenage boys of several generations and horrified their parents.

Yet the band is peerless in the metal genre, with heavy doses of fine musicianship, conviction (albeit the cheeky variety), pomp, volume, and a great sense of drama and timing. The songs are well-structured, sharp, and intelligent (as far as that goes). And for good measure, the band isn’t afraid to use those standard-issue but still effective Middle Eastern guitar flourishes.

The trouble is, Monster Magnet is virtually peerless anyway. There’s a great divide between bands that might be too smart for their own good – say, Tool and Radiohead (“They’re miserable,” Wyndorf said) – and those that are obliviously stupid. Monster Magnet is among the very few in the middle.

“I wish there were a couple more,” Wyndorf said. “There’s no good rock music. It frustrates me as an American rock-and-roll lover. … It’s worse than disco.”

Unfortunately for the band, critics seem to fall all over themselves for each new Radiohead offering, while customers clamor for Backstreet and boy-band metal. “There’s no gold medal for working hard,” Wyndorf said, without bitterness. “Financially it’s a burden. It’s expensive to keep a band out on the road.”

But the road is where Monster Magnet belongs; the band spent two years supporting 1998’s Powertrip, and Wyndorf loved it. “I get to be a brainiac in the studio,” he said. “I can pretty much be an animal for six months” on tour.

The band’s new album, God Says No, isn’t a significant departure from Powertrip, but why should it be? Both are among the finer examples of the anthemic hard-rock album. God Says No uses keyboards more than its predecessor and is a bit more psychedelic, but it’s still a testament to the enduring power of cock rock.

The album did get de-railed, though, when somebody broke into Wyndorf’s car and stole his tapes and ideas two weeks before the band was due in the studio. “The way I put it down was pretty stream of consciousness,” he said. His notes were meant to be a “well” to which he and the band could go back during writing and recording.

With those notes gone, Wyndorf had to write lyrics to one or two songs a day. “It probably had a positive effect,” he said. “I don’t think rock should be over-polished. … I work pretty fast.”

The record starts with a brutal trio of songs, with “Melt” an example of the value of holding back just a touch at just the right moment, and “Heads Explode” building its stuttering guitar fury after each chorus. The propulsive “Doomsday” shows Monster Magnet at its best – smoldering and somewhat subdued.

While the band is monstrous when it’s rocking out, its strongest moments tend to be those (relatively speaking) quieter ones, those with what seem like genuine feelings. On Powertrip, they included “Baby Götterdämerung,” “See You in Hell,” and “Your Lies Become You.”

God Says No includes the standout “Queen of You” and the escalating “Cry,” with an eerily effective guitar outburst. The album’s “Take It” showcases Wyndorf at his most interesting, though, singing (in an inimitable Dave Wyndorf way), humming, and whistling over keyboards and a beat created by a vintage (circa 1981) Casio that he uses to write. All these songs show range and (gasp) a certain honest sensitivity to a world beyond sonic bludgeoning. Most surprising, Wyndorf is able to pull them off without being precious or cloying.

But the quiet moments are respites from the roar, and Monster Magnet’s saving grace is that Wyndorf and company don’t take themselves too seriously; the rockers are all a touch over-the-top and more than a bit silly. Unlike what Wyndorf calls “victim rock,” Monster Magnet isn’t interested in exploiting childhood abuses or negative energy. “I like my decadence with a smile,” Wyndorf said. “I don’t think I could do it unless I could laugh a little bit.”

Monster Magnet will perform at Pigstock with Buckcherry, Oleander, and Saliva on Friday, June 8, at The Pig Pen on Route 30 in Clinton (563/242-3159). On Saturday, 35 local and regional bands will assault eardrums.