Thursday, April 28, 2011

One Great Song - "Spine of God" - Monster Magnet - 1991

The title track from stoner rock icons Monster Magnet's full-length debut may be hard to swallow for those who latched onto the band with their 1998 mega-breakout, Powertrip. In fact, the entire album may be difficult for those looking to bang the head with any velocity. This mother does not rage, it lumbers. And it frequently sits down, smokes up and spaces out.  And nowhere is this better illustrated than the eight-minute odyssey and album centerpiece, "Spine of God."

Opening with elongated chants, a droopy guitar jangle reminiscent of the Doors' "The End," and some stellar effects that make the most of stereo surrounding an audience held chemically captive, vocalist Dave Wyndorf informs the listener that he "just had to get nice last night." His mind is so free, he says, that you wouldn't believe. I bet you will. "I just had to gas a pig last night," he continues and you agree he probably didn't have a choice. You'll google "gas a pig" later to see if he snuffed a cop, smoked some pork or cleared a fuel pipeline. Either way, it left his mind so full, you wouldn't believe. Again, I bet you will.

The thing doesn't even achieve any beat-oriented tempo until two minutes in at which point drumbeats join the cymbals and it seems downright breakneck by comparison to the intro. Wyndorf raises his voice to proclaim "I sold a hundred hits / to a hundred heads / that will never come back / you know what I mean" and you nod along, "Hell, yeah!", as if you really do know what he means.

"You don't yank on the spine of God," Wyndorf philosophizes, "you get what you give / you know what I mean" and he really sums up the stoner aesthetic, defining the Monster Magnet credo at the same time. Squalls of feedback increase throughout, popping up like storms amidst the calm of Wyndorf's meditations until, seven minutes in, they swell into a thunderhead and explode, leaving the listener spent and spaced.

Midway through "Spine of God," Dave Wyndorf sings "there ain't no pioneers / I just smoke what I like / from what's already there." And this is the clearest, most straightforward lyric on the entire song - the entire album, even. "Spine of God" and its namesake album extract the essence of all great drug rock that came before and presents it as one beautifully bloated showpiece, nearly to the point of self-parody but not quite. Instead this one great song exists as the epitome of fandom, reverence and, above all, simultaneous exponential magnification and concentration of the aforementioned Doors influence along with elements of other heavy psychedelic pioneers such as Hawkwind, Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly mixed liberally with the downtuned doom of Black Sabbath.

Monster Magnet may have just chosen what they liked from what was already there to create "Spine of God" but, since then, they've achieved mood-altering alchemy, creating something somehow totally new and exciting from basic elements mined from rock history. "It's a Satanic drug thing..." the record sleeve states, "you wouldn't understand." They're right. But, nonetheless, I cannot imagine enjoying it any more.
 Spine Of God (re-issue)

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