Even without the lyrical cues, it'd be almost irresistible to play armchair psychoanalyst at the decade-in-the-making slo-mo trainwreck that has marked Dave Wyndorf's descent from the gold-record peaks of "Powertrip", through fan-dividing records like "God Says No" and "Monolithic Baby". The story has it all — rehab, relapse, weight gain, creative ennui (even Wyndorf is disowning 2007's flaccid "4-Way Diablo") and eventual rebirth. With lines like "when they pulled me out of my plane crash / I told 'em I was ready to go" and "I'm all outta nothin'... a burned-out magician with nothing to show," it's easy to assume this will be another speed bump on the road to oblivion, more filler for people to yell "SUPERJUUUUUDGE!!!!" through during the slow parts of sparsely-attended gigs.
But a more telling lyric might be the simple and stark "I'm really mad / and I'm really old", from lead single "Gods and Punks". This Wyndorf sounds hollow-eyed, husked out, a little pissed off, and ready to give it one more kick at the can to see if a clean, sober, middle-aged space lord can still kick out the jams. Luckily for us, the answer seems to be yes — "Mastermind" casts a pall of glowering doom over the band's latter day stoner-cock-rock swagger, cranking out a dozen darker, more sinister anthems that still bring the piss and vinegar, but are a total eclipse from the party-all-night vibe of, say, "Hotel Baby". It's still catchy, hooky as all hell, and full of headbangable riffs and bone-primal rhythms. But it's a world-weary, sleep-deprived, even downright cranky manifesto.
Songs like "Hallucination Bomb" and "Dig That Hole" grind like tank treads, slow and angry, heavy and throbbing, and the vibe gets positively epic on the ponderous "When the Planes Fall From the Sky". Even "Mastermind"'s best rocked-out moments, like "Gods and Punks" and the title track, have a slower, more stately mood going on. When the band does try to kick it into a more boogie-ing tempo, as on "100 Million Miles" "Perish in Fire", the results end up a little weak, with a sense of going through the motions. This record is at its best when it's grumpy, angry, and heavy as hell, with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove.
There's a bit of light and shade here — "Ghost Story" is a laid back, even vulnerable song by MAGNET standards, while "All Outta Nothin" ratchets down the distortion almost to "4 Way Diablo" levels. "The Titan Who Cried Like a Baby" and "Time Machine" forgo drums altogether for spooky, smoky Wyndorf interludes -- the former, a bit of lysergic monster-movie shaman bombast that recalls the old days, and the latter a glimpse of the more rode-hard, put-away-wet weary Wyndorf, reflective and moody.
But for all the navel-gazing, self-revelation and the apparent banishment of the hotel-party vibe to the dust-bin of rehab history, "Mastermind" is still a bestriding colossus of a record. It's a bit on the grumpy, sardonic side, but that's not necessarily a bad thing... and in its own surly way, it rocks hard and plants a boot in the ass of any naysayer who thought MONSTER MAGNET had nothing left in the tank. Here's to Dave Wyndorf, and his new incarnation as grouchy old dad at the stoner-rock dinner table. Looking forward to many more years of kicking out a whole new kind of jams.