R.E.M. recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of 1994’s MONSTER, an album that french-fried expectations of both critics and fans of R.E.M., after the success of the rich, string and mandolin-y flow of ‘92’s Automatic For The People.
Me? I loved AFTP so completely. I have multiple singles and special releases, including the one in an actual wooden box with vellum prints of the band (back when packaging was a thing). I was living in the states when MONSTER was released, and I recall rushing to play it for my small group of friends, who honestly looked at me like I was insane. Monster was SO different, so raw, simultaneously in your face and hiding behind a flash facade. Grinding electrics, stripped back thumping percussion, and Michael Stipe alternatively crooning or growling.
The first track, and first single, Whats the Frequency, Kenneth? – I was hooked from the first guitar, and Buck’s possibly-recorded-backwards-then-played-forwards solo left me agape. My CD copy of the single is scratched now beyond believe, but treasured.
Crush with Eyeliner’s droning guitar wah, backed by Mike Mill’s walking bass lines #chefskiss she’s three miles of bad road
Make your money – King of Comedy introduced voice-crushing compression on Stipe’s and Mills’ vocals, perhaps for the first time? I was all “whuuuh whoa”
I don’t sleep I dream, dreamy piano, atmospheric distortion, and a more tom-driven drum background that keeps the song less driven than almost rolling forward. Also featuring Stipe – Stipe’s falsetto – on lead vocals.
Star 69 starts fast, stays fast, and still Mike Mills lays down interesting bass lines throughout. The title makes sense to us olds, ask your mother. squirrelies didn’t chew the wire
“I don’t know, why you’re mean to me”, starts Strange Currencies, a slow, rising tune that doesn’t so much confront as much as wish. Stipe brings his plaintive, meaningful voice to this and I’m there for it. During a bridge, playing the strings above the bridge of his guitar, Buck adds a childish, toy-like section that is both sweet and creepy.
Tongue is a full falsetto crooner from Stipe, over a (likely Mills-provided) Hammond organ. Not my favorite track on the album, but I won’t skip it either.
Bang and Blame is a pretty full rocker, still with Bill Berry’s steady but tom-heavy drums keeping the song rolling more than driving. The guitars, with a long, echoey reverb, are more accent than impact.
Nice tag at the end, too.
I Took Your Name is another guitar-heavy rocker, with the wah and distortion cranked to 11. Another one that’s not a fave, but I usually won’t skip it. It definitely has its moments. There was some confusion, some confusion, as to who’s to blame
Let Me In – another song I will often put on repeat, Let Me In is Stipe’s, and the bands’, tribute to Kurt Cobain. The guitar is heavy, droning, omnipresent. I believe in concert Mike Mills sometimes played Cobain’s left-handed sky blue guitar for this track. Stipe’s voice is almost reverent, plaintive, then powerful as he sings out his love for Cobain.
Circus Envy – another WTF tune that is really fun to listen to even while SMH at the crawling, self-loathing lyrics. Put pepper in my coffee I forgot to bark ON COMMAND
You – I woke up in a sleeping bag, with no where else to run I love you crazy just keep on I love you madly just keep on I love this album just keep on