For Monster Magnet fans, there are two things to like about Milking the Stars: The concept and the execution. The long-running New Jersey outfit seemed to be making a turn to come full-circle on 2013’s Last Patrol (review here), bringing in a more psychedelic feel for the first time in over a decade, not quite trying to recapture their brilliance in early albums like 1991’s Spine of God, 1993’s Superjudge and 1995’s Dopes to Infinity, but definitely making a departure from the hard rock sound they’d developed since then on 1998’s landmark Powertrip, 2001’s God Says No, , 2004’s Monolithic Baby!, 2007’s 4-Way Diablo, and 2010’s Mastermind (review here), their sound becoming more straightforward and — though the 2010 outing was probably the “biggest” they’ve ever come across on tape — increasingly formulaic. Last Patrol boldly turned that progression on its head, daring to brood on songs like “Paradise” and “I Live behind the Clouds” and jamming out righteous wah-soaked space rock on “Last Patrol” and the driving “End of Time.” Particularly for those who’d been longing for such a step from the band, it was the best Monster Magnet outing in 15 years’ time and one of the highlight releases of 2013. With Milking the Stars (out on Napalm Records), the full title of which is Milking the Stars: A Reimagining of Last Patrol, frontman, founder and principal songwriter Dave Wyndorf pushes himself further into satisfying a weirdo trippy impulse, reworking cuts and including material not included on the original Last Patrol to get something new from them and create a record that, even if you didn’t hear the first one, stands on its own, its John Sumrow cover art dogwhistling its companion status to the album before it.
The reason I say the concept should be pleasing to Monster Magnet fans is because what it shows is that Wyndorf – joined at this point in Monster Magnet by guitarists Phil Caivano and Garrett Sweeney, bassist Chris Kosnik (who makes his recorded debut with the band on a couple live bonus tracks), and drummer Bob Pantella – is not only in a place feeling creative enough to take on the material of Last Patrol and give it a thorough screwing with, which is something that’s never been done before in Monster Magnet‘s 25-year history, but also that he’s making it weirder. Some of Milking the Stars‘ cuts, like “End of Time (B-3)” and “I Live behind the Clouds (Roughed up and Slightly Spaced)” don’t depart as much from their original incarnations — though neither will I downplay how much of a game-changer that Hammond is on “End of Time” — but in “No Paradise for Me” Wyndorf takes the moody original to a more open-sounding place and changes the lyrics to more directly address his disappointment with pop modernity: “I guess I’ll have to make up what I want to see.” And so he does. That’s basically what this album is, but that only makes it a more honest work. Opener “Let the Circus Burn” (also the longest cut at 7:26; immediate points) tweaks, slows down and spaces out the original “Last Patrol,” and “Mindless Ones ’68” pulls back on the heavy rocking original for a more garage-rock interpretation, bright lead guitar forward in the mix, tambourine and organ taking the place of snare stomp and a wailing solo. The title-track, “Milking the Stars” was left off Last Patrol and it’s easy enough to speculate why. At 7:26, it would’ve pushed that album to nearly an hour long, and while it has an effective linear build and might’ve bridged a gap between “End of Time” and “Last Patrol” and some of that record’s shorter, more verse/chorus-minded cuts, it makes a better focus cut than secondary player, even if its title can give the idea that the band are simply “milking” their last album for more material — a notion that no doubt occurred to them in picking the title and was taken on with tongue in cheek.
And as for the execution, while I’m not prepared to say Milking the Stars is a better or worse album than Last Patrol – the two are best considered in league with each other — several of the songs are markedly improved here from their originals. “Hallelujah (Fuzz and Swamp)” even more calls Larman Clamor to mind in its blown-out revivalism, “Stay Tuned (Even Sadder)” lives righteously up to its parenthetical, and the drum track and extra guitar that appear in closer “The Duke (Full on Drums ‘n’ Wah)” give that song a personality beyond what one could’ve expected from the first incarnation. Not only are these particular cuts well conceived, but the reality of the listen proves just as satisfying as the idea, and Milking the Stars works as a whole front-to-back listen, rather than a collection of one-off reinterpretations, like a remix record or something. It’s not that. “Reimagining” sounds ambitious, but it’s as close to the fact of what’s taking place here as anything I can come up with, and works all the better perhaps in conveying the adventurous spirit behind the motivation in making the album in the first place. Last Patrol was a brazen step, but Milking the Stars makes it seem like just the beginning of a new phase in Monster Magnet‘s ongoing evolution. As someone who’s a fan of the band, and a fan of Last Patrol, it’s all the more exciting to think that Wyndorf and company might approach songwriting with such an anything-can-happen creative sensibility a quarter-century on from the group’s start. It makes the prospects for where they might go next all the more vast, considering if they can take on Last Patrol and remold it into Milking the Stars, there’s really no telling where they might go from here. All the better. What seemed like it might’ve been Monster Magnet‘s final round looks instead to have become the catalyst for a new phase in their career, and my only hope is they keep getting weirder from here on out.