Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Space Lord… Mother… Mother…

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: .

Whatever happened to Monster Magnet?

Truth is, despite retaining just a single original member, vocalist and guitarist Dave Wyndorf, the band is still kicking around after over two decades “together.” That said, Monster Magnet‘s continued existence hasn’t been without its setbacks. Rotating through 11 band members since 1989, the group hit it big after switching up from their psych-rock leaning Dopes to Infinity by making a splash on modern rock radio with 1998′s polished Powertrip. Going gold within a year, the album bolstered a pair of killer singles that might very well remain the most notable within MM’s discography: “Space Lord” and the title track, “Powertrip.”

Though the band’s follow-up release, 2000′s God Says No, might be a more well-rounded album (I know this having purchased it back in the day based on its inclusion in Q’s Recordings of the Year list — sidenote: remember when music mags had clout?), but it failed to equal the commercial success of its predecessor, resulting in a major turnover in the lineup and a parting of ways with A&M Records. A couple of flops bookended a drug overdose before MM made a return last year with Mastermind, which resulted in the group’s first appearance on the Billboard 200 in nearly a decade (debuting at #165). Not to undercut any of the subsequent highs and lows, but for better or worse, Powertrip remains the centerpiece from Monster Magnet’s lengthy discography.

Part of the album’s success — a large part, actually — was the use of music videos to drive interest in songs that might otherwise have faded away into the hard rock landscape of the time. Directed by Joseph Kahn, who’s also responsible for videos from the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child and Aaliyah, “Space Lord” has all of the gratuitous excesses of many other clips from the late-’90s, but what’s most unique about it is its ability to completely bite style from such a wide range of already-clichéd videos (something Kahn was great at, as resume later landed him the directorial role behind the 2004 Fast and Furious rip-off, Torque).

Opening with an attempt at creating atmosphere by having the band set in a cloud of out-of-focus haze while light bursts kick in and out (not unlike Hole’s “Gold Dust Woman” or “A Common Disaster” from the Cowboy Junkies) the music video builds a little momentum before the largely naked body of a wrinkly old near-corpse of a man enters the shot (this is where my mind jumps to “Heart Shaped Box“). Then, for some not-readily-apparent reason, we’re whisked away from the brooding stage of the intro to the Las Vegas strip where Monster Magnet gets all Bad Boy on us, performing in front of the Plaza Hotel (and Casino) among rapid fire shots of fireworks and rump-shaking power-dancers. Hell, they even manage to squeeze Twiggy Ramirez into the video. The only thing it was missing was a supa-dupa fly costume (which actually ended up making an appearance in the band’s next Kuhn-directed clip for “Powertrip“). Fun fact: “Space Lord” was also the first video to ever be shown on MTV’s Total Request Live when the show made its debut, September 14, 1998. (Entirely unrelated fun fact: Total Request Live debuted on Amy Winehouse’s 15th birthday.)

Though Powertrip caught fire in North America, its singles didn’t carry the same momentum into the UK when the album was released there the following year. Despite peaking at #3 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart the previous year, “Space Lord” topped out at the #45 position on the UK singles chart, where it lasted only a single week. “Powertrip” only did slightly better, spending a total of two weeks in the sun.

So to answer the question, whatever happened to Monster Magnet: clearly, a lot has happened. But — not unlike many hundred, if not thousands of bands before and after who tasted success only to collapse into obscurity — nothing has happened that really compares to the band’s peak in the late-’90s with the success of Powertrip.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]