"Milking the Stars: A Re-Imagining of Last Patrol"

By the Great Sun Jester

  Of course, Monster Magnet would be the band to do this. Few bands besides Dave Wyndorf and his crew would record a top-notch album for Napalm Records, The Last Patrol, and convince the same label to release a second, "re-imagined" version less than two years later. Milking The Stars: A Re-Imagining of Last Patrol isn't some half-hearted revision or remix of the earlier set. Instead, Wyndorf and the rest of Monster Magnet have completely recast a number of songs as well as recording new material for this release. It's one of the oddest titles in recent memory given to a major album, but it's true in advertising. This album is perhaps the strongest reminder yet, in the band's long career, of exactly why they have endured, developed, and influenced so many.

 If the avowed intent is recasting the album as a decidedly more retro affair, Monster Magnet succeeds. The instrumental opener, "Let The Circus Burn", kicks off the album with its superb atmospherics, but the traditional structure reorients the band's typical focus. This is a band impossible to pigeonhole and I won't try, but willfully and gleefully subverting the audience's expectations with thrilling surprises has remained an integral part of this band's identity from the first note. The direct approach taken here focuses the band in unexpected ways and individual parts, like the muted Hammond organ swirl, are key threads in a layered tapestry of sound.

 The Hammond emerges as a pivotal force in "Mindless Ones '68". This track plays like some sort of unholy synthesis of Arthur Brown at his raving best and jaunty pop-inflected psychedelia. Stomping organ lines buttress the guitar and a pulsing rhythm section helps give the production a chunky bottom end. "No Paradise For Me" rises up from some black hole of blues-soaked theatricality. Everything is a step or more removed from the listener. The production drowns Wyndorf's vocal in airy, distant echo and the band, while higher in the mix, often sound like they are listing, drifting closer to the ear before retreating again.

"Milking The Stars", the album's title track, finds Wyndorf emerging as a sort of cosmic Nick Cave. They share the same highly stylized vocal approach, but with a track like this and others in the band's recent history, Wyndorf's lyrics have excelled and this song is no exception. While there aren't any classical elements present, the music has a distinctly orchestrated quality. This well-constructed, tightly organized song never feels overly pre-meditated. Dynamic, fluid backing matches well with the rich lyrical material in "I Live Behind The Clouds". There is the suggestion of something, perhaps, more personal about this song than other album cuts and the music has such strong, seamless transitions give lyrics added weight. Wyndorf's vocal moves freely from understated, if not conspiratorial, soulful, and impassioned without ever sounding overwrought.

 Monster Magnet's reinvention of "Stay Tuned" is full of blurry, unsettled emotions. The production leaves the minimalist music hanging over Wyndorf's often spoken word passages. When he does sing, Wyndorf musters up a surprisingly soulful vocal. Nothing should surprise me from this band, but Milking The Stars mines a richer vein than I ever believed possible. A release like this, full of such creativity, really calls upon me to re-evaluate everything about this band. Monster Magnet has a long history as a touring and recording entity, but it doesn't matter - they have reached a new peak with this release that will stick in my memory for a long time. Highly recommended.