Wednesday, August 27, 2014

R.E.M. - Monster (1994)

The standout R.E.M album

Few bands can claim to have been the best in the world without sounding completely ridiculous. The American jangle pop alternative rock band R.E.M. was one of those bands. R.E.M not only won the respect of their musical peers but were also a huge commercial success and had and still have some of the most devoted fans in music today. And they made it stand out with Monster, their ninth studio album that was released in 1994.

If their preceding two albums, Out of Time (1991) and the best selling Automatic for the People (1992) were kind of slow rockish quiet records full of mandolins, pianos, and acoustic guitars, Monster is a powerhouse, completely unlike either of those records. Musically different, it is an ambitious album full of cutting electric guitars and distorted vocals that makes you sit up and listen. Sounding like early vintage R.E.M, the band takes the traditional guitar-bass-drums route and make it all seem new again but with a rocking edge.

The chart tapping first track, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" sets the tone with its catchy appeal. Its indeed a great track with a lovely tune. Incidentally, it was also the fastest-rocking song R.E.M. had recorded in years. "Crush With Eyeliner" is next, and it's another guitar-driven rocker in which Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth also makes a guest appearance. In the lyrics to "Crush With Eyeliner," Stipe toys around with his often-questioned sexual orientation. In fact, Stipe's sexual preference also pops up again on "King of Comedy" in which Stipe sings "I'm straight, I'm queer, I'm bi." 

Many of the songs on Monster use the old R.E.M. trademark of burying Stipe's vocals under layers of music. Notably songs like "Circus Envy," "Let Me In," and "Star 69" all sound reminiscent of the band's earliest albums because it's hard to hear what Stipe is singing. On "Let Me In," Stipe sings about the loss of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain as guitarist Peter Buck lays a backdrop of distortion and feedback. 

Fans who hadn't discovered R.E.M. until "Losing My Religion" may have been in for a bit of a shock and a reason why the album didn't too well commercially, but Monster was also the album that old R.E.M. fans were waiting for. Its raw, full of contrast and a nostalgic reminder of the great sounds of the 90s! 


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