Monster Magnet – Cobras and Fire (Mastermind Redux)
Late last year Monster Magnet released Milking the Stars: A Reimagining of Last Patrol, a serious reworking of their fine 2013 album. Apparently Dave was on a tangent because he's rolled right on into the tapes from the previous album Mastermind and given them similar treatment. Cobras and Fire (Mastermind Redux) has much in common with Milking the Stars in that it is not so much a remix as it is a thorough reinvention of pretty much every aspect of the album. There's a lot of new stuff here.
While I'm sure that other members of the band make important contributions, there's no question that Dave Wyndorf is the primary driving force behind Monster Magnet. It's his influences, writing style, and lyrical flow that define the overall gist of their vibe. And if you've been paying attention over the last few albums, you can't help but notice Dave is feeling a little nostalgic about the good ‘ol days, and maybe a little dark about the now, as well as the not too distant future.
Beginning with 2007's 4-Way Diablo (the first album after Wyndorf's stint in rehab), the lyrical bent of Monster Magnet has moved more and more toward a reflection on the past that is tinged with as much sadness as it is fondness. In “Time Machine” from Mastermind, Wyndorf daydreams, "I think I'll go to 1969. I'll buy some comic books and replay my old life," but ultimately gives up the ghost in the chorus, "Life is fine if you have a time machine, but I broke mine…" In “Gods and Punks”, revisited here under the same title, he muses, tongue in cheek, "I'm a stoned jet fighter with a heart of gold. I'm really mad, and I'm really old." It's not all doom and gloom, of course, and there's plenty of the sexed up bravado and references to 60s and 70s pop art that one comes to expect from Monster Magnet. Mastermind's “Dig that Hole” has been reconfigured as “She Digs That Hole”, and kicks the album off with the unabashed lines "Her name is Cobra, and she's my porno wife…"
It would be fair to say the album is sonically simpler, or even sparser than Mastermind, but throughout the album the approach feels thoughtful and fresh. Each track has been taken down to its bare bones, and built up again with different instrumentation, and often with different lyrics. I can't be sure, but many of the songs seem not to include anything from the master tapes and represent not only new approaches to the songs but completely new recordings. Overall the whole thing is pushed a little deeper into 60s space rock territory – Moog-ish keyboards, echo-chambers, sitars and all. “Hallucination Bomb”, the excellent, Sabbath-like track from the original record has been given the acoustic-guitar-with-a-healthy-dose-of-drone-instrument-treatment, and now feels more like a sludgy acid trip than the bludgeoning album opener it was on Mastermind.
For all the soupy goodness that's mixed in, this is still very much a Monster Magnet album, though, which is to say gut level, sweat-drenched rock, and there are a good few full-on high points that should satisfy the more casual Monster Magnet fan. The mid-paced “Ball of Confusion”, which as near as I can tell is not based on any of the basic tracks on Mastermind, and the jumpy “Watch Me Fade” are both fine entries into the overall MM catalogue, providing the proper soundtrack for driving your 1970s Dodge Challenger. The album closes with the wonderfully trippy “I Live Behind the Paradise Machine”, which is credited parenthetically as "Evil Joe Barresi's Magnet Mash Vol. 1.” and includes some of the music from Milking the Stars, and as such represents a reimagining of a reimagining of sorts. The song gives one the impression that Dave and Joe Barresi (the albums mixer/producer) had so much fun putting this all together that they were not sure where one album ended and the next began.
Though they are often dismissively labeled simply as stoner rock, post-2000 Monster Magnet continues to release interesting, relevant records. And while one of his lyrical themes of late seems to focus on the continued collapse of the music industry and the sometimes previously fun party surrounding it, it's nice to know Dave Wyndorf still has enough fire in his belly to need to make records whether people listen to them or not. He's getting on in years now (59 to be exact at the time of this review), you can tell he still obsesses over each knob on his fuzz effects pedals, and he still ties enough truth and self-observation into his wild mix of lyrical references here to keep things interesting.