Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Album of the Day:
Monster Magnet - 25...Tab

It's A Satanic Drug Thing...You Wouldn't Understand

Monster Magnet's Seventies-inspired sound was a fluffier, more commercial mirror of the "true" doom metal style espoused by the likes of Lee Dorrian. [I seem to be alone in remembering animosity between the two scenes; it should be noted that there were so few bands playing "stoner rock" during Monster Magnet's early years that they played shows with death metal OGs - and fellow Jersey boys - Ripping Corpse.] Their signing to a major label was likely the result of A&R reps scrambling to uncover the next Soundgarden (though MM's long tenure on A&M Records is a testament to the fact that they were actually great songwriters, though not hitmakers). Monster Magnet would eventually shed their less commercial tendencies over the course of their career, and by the time Powertrip came out in 1998, their transformation into MTV-friendly radio rock was complete.

Before any of that happened, though, Monster Magnet were a group of scruffy stoners revelling in all aspects of Seventies drug culture. 25...Tab was the band's second EP, released in 1991. With its space-themed album artwork, 25...Tab literally wears its Hawkwind influence on its (record) sleeve. Recorded before their debut Spine of God, but released shortly after ("We don't know why either," the band stated in the liner notes), the majority of the album is taken up by the half-hour long "Tab"; it consists of one solitary riff that shuffles forth, changes keys, and reverts back, while an array of guitar pedals make B-movie sound effects. Dave Wyndorf's vocals, completely unintelligible, are a deeply reverbed spoken word harangue. The song epitomizes a phenomenon my buddy Knut refers to as "taking drugs to make music to take drugs to" (guitarist John McBain has admitted to being "too stoned to pay attention" during the recording).

Can an album be both widely released and underappreciated? 25...Tab appears to be both. Though my inbox has been clogged with admitted Monster Magnet disciples for years, few have cited Tab as an influence or a favourite. That this release isn't regarded with the same esteem as Sleep's similarly ambitious, similarly high-minded Jerusalem (which was recorded 5 years later) seems to be a karmic slight related to its less arduous creation. Jerusalem had a story arc worthy of a Hollywood screenplay: Misunderstood in its own time, the album's difficult recording and release led to Sleep breaking up. It was dismissed and shelved by the band's label, only to be reappraised years later as an essential part of the slow metal canon, vindicating its creators.

25...Tab, on the other hand, was released without incident. No attempt was ever made to edit its droning half hour into radio-friendly singles; the album was released to moderate interest, first by a German indie and later by a large conglomerate. By the time Caroline Records licensed it, Monster Magnet had already nestled into a lower tier of rock's mainstream.

25...Tab is the last great space rock album, severed from its rightful era and released 20 years too late - an anachronistic curiosity that would haunt used CD bins and confound teenagers for years to come (I got my copy from a high school acquaintance whose interest in music never went deeper than whatever punk and indie rock happened to be fashionable - he seemed eager to be rid of it). It's a bridge between the glory days of progressive weirdos like Amon Düül and the current resurgence of heavy psychedelic music. But more than anything, it's the sound of young people creating art, free of the expectations of fans and record labels. As a result, there's a DGAF purity to it that contributes to its timelessness. Head to the nearest used CD bin to pick up a copy that a lesser music fan discarded.