R.E.M. :: Wrangling In The Monster


Athens, GA:
Earlier this Fall, R.E.M. were at work on their next, as of yet untitled, album in a 19th century Athens chapel that had been carefully converted into a makeshift studio. Those familiar with R.E.M./Athens lore will note this apparent return-to-roots approach…but sorry, no Bill Berry.

The news of R.E.M. again gearing up for another studio release has coincidently coincided with my recent (re)appreciation of the band’s 1994 LP, Monster. I can’t get enough of it.

Coming off the heels of two relatively quiet and acoustic based albums (Out of Time, Automatic For The People), Monster, their ninth full-length, was touted as a “return to rock” — in fact, I believe I said as much in the review I penned my freshman year of college in the school’s newspaper.

Besides the music itself, this re-kindled interest in Monster is in part due to my relationship with it over the last decade and a half. For shortly after praising it in print, I turned vehemently against both it, and the band’s inflated image. Suddenly Stipe and company had, in my eyes, lost it. This sentiment lasted for a number of years. **(Granted, this was my freshman year of college, twelve hours from home, and I was eagerly consuming a vast amount of varied/disparate music. As a Georgia native, growing up not 60 miles form Athens, R.E.M.’s familiarity was in retrospect a strike against them. Ridiculous, I know).

When I first revisited the album a couple of months ago my initial reaction was that Monster may have been ahead of its time. But not so fast, perhaps it was just ahead of my time. Maybe, in ’94, I wasn’t ready for this new, evolved, R.E.M.; and to be honest, if not for a friend swearing by New Adventures In Hi-Fi a few years after its original release, I may have never picked up postAutuomatic era R.E.M. again.

Not surprisingly, this drastic re-appraisal of Monster has me wondering what the last three albums (Up, Reveal, Around The Sun) were like – I have heard none of them, and, upon their release, blew them of on spec. Heard them? Have and opinion? Hit me up in the comments.

Elsewhere: As previously mentioned, Pop Songs 07 is a music blog dedicated to chronicling every R.E.M. song ever recorded.

MP3: R.E.M. :: Strange Currencies
MP3: R.E.M. :: Tongue
Amazon: R.E.M. – Monster

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R.E.M. :: Strange Currencies – 1994

www.remhq.com ++ www.murmurs.com

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Additional Monster Era Videos After The Jump

32 thoughts on “R.E.M. :: Wrangling In The Monster

  1. UP is a great record. I think it gets a bad rap b/c it’s the first record without bill and was such a departure from aything they had done in the past. Hope, At my most beautiful, and Walk Unafraid are brilliant songs. In my opinion reveal is probably the worst record they have ever released. I’m not crazy about around the sun either. Although aftermath is a great track.

  2. I have a similar relationship with/to R.E.M albums after “Monster”. I probably would’ve blown off Monster except for one thing. What sold me on Monster was the concert film they released about the same time, showing them rehearsing for the tour and then playing for an Atlanta crowd. Great stuff. The title of the movie escapes me right now. Anyway, I was disenchanted with the more recent records. However, I borrowed them from the public library recently, and they’re growing on me. Give them a chance. I think the difference is they’re kind of average. I don’t mean that in a bad way. A lot of older R.E.M. records are so immensely good from start to finish, but more recent ones are a collection of good songs with 2-3 standouts. That’s not bad, it’s very good compared to most of the industry. A bad R.E.M. disc will still kick the snot out of Maroon 5 on their best day…

  3. i am really looking forward to the new record. and i think that ‘new adventures’ is the best record that r.e.m. ever did, especially lyrically. that being said, you are really missing out on ‘up’– i mean the record’s a little more than left of center [‘daysleeper’ and ‘my most beautiful’ notwithstanding] but it is not the cryptic mess everyone would have you believe. ‘apologist’ is nice for me to compare to ‘so. central rain’ as far as the band’s progression goes. ‘sad professor,’ ‘diminished,’ and ‘walk unafraid’ are really great tunes and the best tune on the record for me is ‘suspicion’.

    ‘reveal’ i have fond memories of, living in athens the summer before september 11th. i remember bartending at the globe and missing that secret show across the street at the georgia theatre. i remember i was seeing this girl kelly and the video for ‘all the way to reno’ always seemed to be on at her house on mtv2. in fact, the more i think about it, ‘reveal’ to me is kind of cosmically, thematically, like the scenes described in the song ‘nightswimming’. drinking heavily at the manhattan and the go bar [once or twice actually with michael, though we’re not friends]. afterhours hot tub parties. meaningless-ish sex. i was about to turn 24. i, and also the world, was never innocent again after that summer.

    ‘around the sun’ to me is probably the least strong record r.e.m. has ever done. i don’t hate the record and have listened to it many times. that being said, i wish i liked it more than i do and it’s never really had that much of an impact on me.

    so there you go, man. keep up the good day to day.

    your faithful reader…

  4. I’ve been stuck in Monster/New Adventures/Up era R.E.M. records for the past month, thanks mostly due to the recently released live album. Monster strongly defines a period/relationship in my life and listening to that again has brought a rush of memories back. I’ve always been a HUGE fan of New Adventures in Hi-Fi – album never grows tired to these ears. I can’t wait for the new album, and I hope they tour, cause I want to see them live, though don’t want to be let down.

  5. Loved Monster & New Adventures, but sorry, I feel they just fell apart when Berry left. It’s pains me to say that. R.E.M. meant so much to me but I have found their last 3 albums to be so creatively bankrupt, so painful to listen to- the odd good track here and there but overall the songwriting is not anywhere close to what it used to be. I would be so thrilled if they pulled out of this slump- I wish I knew more about the internal dynamic of the band; what did they lose when Berry left? Anybody?

  6. listening to Monster reminds me of how exciting it was to be a fan of R.E.M. as they were hitting their apex. this coincided with me coming into my own as a young kid striking out on my own, musically-speaking.

    i, too, recently came back to R.E.M. i had painstakingly collected all of their albums up to Monster and then, for a bizarre lack of reason, decided i was kind of over them. but now that i’ve given Up, Reveal and Around The Sun a chance (mostly because i really enjoyed seeing them perform on the rock & roll HOF induction ceremony), i can honestly say that i love all of their albums. Hi-Fi is fantastic and Around The Sun is a solid work. The other three, despite a few rough patches are still worth owning and i’m looking forward to the new work.

  7. Up is my favourite REM record. I bought it for my sister one Christmas, and it stayed in my cd player for two weeks before I gave it to her. I think it’s far more original than any other REM record, and certainly more experimental.

  8. There’s not much evidence of a ‘dramatic reappraisal’ here, but I’m with you on the media overexposure at the time. I felt that in the wake of Nirvana’s untimely demise, Stipe, second only to Courtney, really took advantage of that relationship for publicity purposes.

    To me, and I enjoy R.E.M. in all phases, save the last two horrific studio albums, Monster is the perfect mid-life crisis record for them, where they regressed as a group to their primal rock longings [which I think they perfected with ‘Wake Up Bomb’ on New Adventures]. It’s also a great backlash against the critically acclaimed, yet hopelessly MOR schmaltz that made Automatic so popular. In so many ways Monster was just R.E.M.’s last ditch attempt to cash in on ‘rock’ before it moved out of the mainstream/stopped being the idiomatic expression of youth for good.

  9. I’m a big fan of “Monster” as well. It’s nice to read a thoughtful analysis of that album, rather than the usual scornful dismissal of R.E.M.’s “return” to rock. One of the things I love about the album is that, while grunge and its hideous children were dominant, “Monster” is actually a bizarre amalgam of glam and punk and whatever else. And that, in an era when gloomy introspection ended up being the norm, the songs on “Monster” are all written in character. And that character, pretty much across the board, is a jerk.

    I strongly recommend “Up”. It’s strange and slightly overlong, and its sequencing is a bit odd, but as a retreat from expectations it’s only rivalled by “Kid A”. Great singing, neat use of anachronistic synths. And, typically of R.E.M., it’s not just an album recorded at a time of internal confusion, it’s about internal confusion.

    “Reveal” also has some terrific songs on it. Almost all of them, in fact. But there are duds — in my opinion, “She Just Wants To Be” is not just a lousy song, but one of the worst the band has ever recorded. But if you skip it, it’s another thoughtful, thematically linked album that suffers only from production that occasionally teeters into grossness. No more creaky-sounding synthesizers; instead, there’s so much sweetness that overexposure can give you a sugar headache. Still: recommended.

    “Around the Sun” isn’t really very good at all. I mean, like the commenter above, I’ve listened to it more than I’ve listened to a great number of good albums I own. But working with Pat McCarthy over the course of these three albums dampened the band to the point of squishiness. The songs on this sounded much better live, but despite my nearly unconditional love for R.E.M., I don’t recommend it.

    In answer to Brian’s question, I can only guess at what they lost when Bill left by the diminishing returns. They lost a great back-up vocalist, a great pop songwriter, a great drummer (I mean, he’s no Neil Peart, but there are too many examples to mention of how his performances elevated songs) and, judging by the aimlessness of many post “New Adventures” songs, an editor.

  10. The 3 post-NAIHF records all have their strong points and their weaknesses in my opinion. R.E.M. is my favorite band and I will always give them a spin, but Around the Sun seemed lacking. I think you could take the strongest tracks from those 3 records and throw together one REALLY strong record.

    But that’s just my take. They are all worth checking out.

    And NAIHF is by far my favorite R.E.M. record.

  11. I think it all depends where you are in life. For me, like you, Monster looks a lot better in hindsight. I loved New Adventure upon its relief and said to myself “Thank God, R.E.M. is back”. When I listen to Monster now I realize that they never left. The recent stuff – I don’t know – I like Reveal and the others have their moments. But maybe we just need a few years. Great post!

  12. First of all, I’m a huge REM fan that has been confused/disappointed with them the last five years.

    Monster has great songs on it, but I wouldn’t rate it close to REM’s best. That said, it’s still a very good record. My take on the album is that it’s the first “reactionary” album they ever made. They followed the trend of the time by going “loud”. Part of that, I think, was because a) Berry practically demanded something louder/harder from a drumming standpoint, and b) grunge was the thing at the time. I do think some of the music suffers from this in that it was more forced than any of their prior works. And Band and Blame is one of their worst songs ever.

    Moving on, however, New Adventures in Hi Fi may be their best album. It’s just a spectacular album. All the nuances of REM, just wrapped up in an awesome package filled with rockers, ballads, and Stipe-isms. Just a fantastic album. Like your friend, I recommend this album to everyone I know.

    Up is hands down their most underrated album. I too think it got dismissed simply because of the Berry departure. If you listen to that album today, it sounds like it could have come out this week in my opinion. While it takes a few listenings to get through the Radiohead-esque “Airportman”, it opens up into something much bigger.

    Reveal is a solid, but definitely not spectacular album. It featured the corniest video they ever did (directed ironically by Michael Moore). There are six great songs and one of the best 1-2 punch opening tracks they’ve done.

    What can I say about Around the Sun. Terrible? Disengenuous? Strung out? As a huge, huge REM fan it pains me that I look at this disc with the same disdain I used to give Jimmy Page’s “Outrider” disc I’d continuously see in the used-CD bin.

  13. I thought Monster was great when it was released, and i’ve continued to listen to it throughout the years. New Adventures and Hi-Fi are in my opinion REMs best outputs. The songs are great and very unpredictable, the sounds on these records was totally unexpected and all the more interesting, i especially dig electrolite, new test leper, walk unafraid, at my most beautiful. Reveal wasn’t as strong but its nice and poppy, and good summertime listen. Not too many people agree with me but i think Around the Sun is awesome, leaving new york, boy in the well, electron blue and my favorite – ascent of man. The new live disc hihlights these albums fairly well, and i can’t wait to hear the new record.

  14. Around the Sun gets a lot of criticism even though its much better than Reveal, which is their weakes album in my opinion.
    I had Monster on scratched up vinyl and it sounded real good in that format. The Monster tour was really great.

  15. Firstly,I’m a long-standing fan of REM,first saw them live in 1984, & thought everything they did in the ’80’s was groundbreaking. Green,Out Of Time,& Automatic saw them get the praise & attention everyone who had followed them knew they deserved.Monster was the first album that was’nt consistently briliant all the way through,it just sort of tailed off… .
    New Adventures & Up saw a band willing to experiment, Up in particular is a work of beautifully skewed genius. Kudos to them so far for not getting into a well-worn formula,& being keen to forge ahead with new sounds.
    But then came Reveal & Around The Sun,which have been an exercise in diminishing returns,Around The Sun,in particular sounding bland & jaded,with only ‘Leaving New York’ coming out with any credit.
    Interestingly,as a previous poster has pointed out, the Around The Sun tracks sound much better live,so maybe it was the production which is to blame. I do however have a good vibe about the new one,which judging by the live new stuff on You Tube,sounds a lot like a return to the Document era quality.

  16. up is a great record for sure. ive always enjoyed the mildly electronic vibe incorporated in berrys absence. songs like ‘daysleeper’ are classic, as is ‘lotus’ which is stipe rocking, ‘sad professor’ has always seemed like a poetic darling and ‘at my most beautiful’ is a total mixtape confessional. gotta love nigel goodrich’s production

  17. I was late getting on to the REM bandwagon in the first place, so when Monster came out, I wasn’t so horrified at it as a lot of other people were. I loved it. I go along with the crowd here saying that Hi-Fi is one of their best Cd’s, and I saw an interview once where the band members themselves feel the same way about that album. It took a little while, but I regard “Up” as a pretty darn good contemporary REM CD. But that’s where I jumped off the bandwagon. I really wanted to like Reveal. I really wanted to like Around The Sun. But I couldn’t get behind them. The only redeeming value of Reveal is that they toured behind it.

  18. I am still partial to the REM era when you could not understand what Michael Stipe was saying. Where you could catch the first few words of a line and then he would trail off into the unintelligible. I have fond memories of seeing them at the Fox Theatre on their first three tours, before Mr. Stipe stepped up on the soapbox. I became less interested as his message got clearer.

  19. REM was a four piece. The unique quality of their music relied heavily on the contributions of all four members. The fact that New Adventures is such a strong record is the last remaining testament to how special that four-person dynamic was. I quiver to think what Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe could have collectively produced in the past 10 year period.

    We get a very tiny glimpse into that world with Up, since Berry was involved in early demo sessions for some of the tunes. And Up survives as perhaps the best post-Berry album for that very reason. I believe the group even stated around that time that, before Bill left, they saw themselves headed into a direction as a four-piece where the background textures started to come to the fore a bit more, and their experimental sonics became a main focus, as opposed to being buried in the mix as in previous records.

    Berry’s departure sped that process up drastically. But in doing so, Reveal lowered the bar quite low, and Around The Sun knocked it flat to the ground. Berry’s absence is felt throughout every aspect of those latter two albums especially. The arrangements are rather uncharacteristically bloated at times, and some of the structures are unwieldy at best. Berry had a knack for finding the pop heartbeat in the band’s songs and was crucial in shaping them not only structurally but also melodically and rhythmically. His contribution can not be overstated. At the Rock Hall performance, I got chills when they reunited for ‘Gardening At Night’. Finally, the magic was back. There was a spirit to that performance in particular that crystallizes exactly what REM was all about. Find it on Youtube and surely you will see and hear the difference for yourself.

    The band is a completely different entity without him, for better or worse. Sure, the new album might be more up-tempo, and might claim to have all the other familiar classic REM elements like Buck’s Rickenbaker arpeggios, Mills melodic bass and harmonies, and Stipe’s lyrical poise and intellect. But it will never ever really sound like REM unless all four original members happen to be making the music.

  20. I have been a R.E.M. fan for twenty years. They were the first band that I truly loved and wanted to consume absolutely everything that they put out. Over the years, my love has not waned, but evolved with them. I have the “favorite album” discussion with some other R.E.M. fans and mine will always be “Life’s Rich Pageant”, but partly because it was the first one I ever bought. I really liked “Reveal” especially the song “She Justs Wants to Be”. “Around The Sun” left me confused and disappointed. “Up” shows their pain of losing Bill and going on, while finding themselves on new uncharted ground and learning to be a band again.

  21. I think Reveal is one of REM’s better albums.
    I keep going back to it thinking it couldn’t be that good but it always is.
    Up I traded in but I’d like to hear it again. maybe.
    Around The Sun is the only REM album I didn’t buy and have never heard
    Monster could use a remix.
    New Adventures is overrated but I like the last song.
    Did I mention Reveal is a great album.
    Not Automatic great. Just regular great.

  22. Interestingly enough, I was flipping through the Q Magazine songwriters edition at the bookstore and the Peter Buck interview is revealing. He expresses disappointment at most of the post-Berry albums, and says most of the best and most experimental songs were left on the floor. He felt they should have pushed it further. He even says hat their last tour was quite good, but felt bad that they didn’t have any goods songs to tour with (a back hand at “Around The Sun”.

    Seems like Buck feels the same was as a lot of REM fans. I don’t mind the new stuff, but I don’t go out of my way for them either. Good, not great. I still have hope though, and there is no diminishing their stellar work from ’82 – ’95. Will always be amongst my favorite bands, and I’m thankful their influence has led to so many other great bands. All hail REM

  23. I loved Monster in the ’90s, but lately I don’t care for it, save for a few songs. (“I Took Your Name” and “Let Me In” are still really great in my book.) While it’s a solid record, and the tour was great, it sounds dated to me.

    “Up” is much better than some people would have you believe. “Around the Sun” is somewhat better than a lot of people would have you believe. There’s nothing that really stands out to me, and I liked the songs better after hearing them live, but it’s just a so-so record. A decent album, but not by REM’s standards.

    “Reveal” … well, I know it has its defenders, but it just does nothing for me. Other than two songs I really, really love (“The Lifting” and “Imitation of Life”), I find it exceedingly bland.

    I wish more non-diehard REM fans knew what a fantastic album “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” is, though. It’s one of my favorites. I remain hopeful for a GOOD REM album. Like, really good. Not just good by REM standards.

  24. First REM purchase was Reckoning. So that’s my favorite. Funny how that works. First saw the band live on the Fables tour (with the Replacements and the Three O’Clock), so that one is kind of special too. I remember playing Driver 8 over and over again on guitar in the dorm at college. I’m old. The vast majority of my peers came aboard around the Life’s Rich Pageant time. Loved that one at the time, but now I think it’s kind of weak (musically) after re-listening the other day–but it still takes me back. For me the best of REM is Reckoning, Murmur, and Automatic For the People. I hated Monster when it came out and never really gave it a chance. I’ll try again now, but don’t have high expectations. The only thing I like after AFTP is New Adventures, which is a really good album, imo. After that, flatline.

  25. I was just hitting middle school and the age where music begins to take over your life when I heard Monster. I remember requesting it on the local rock station in L.A and calling them back to ask them what was taking them so long. This album is still so relevant today. And the cd art on it is like something I’d see from Sonic Youth. I was listening to this not two weeks ago, thinking what a shame that people have completely forgotten about this album. I’m glad somebody else feels the same way. I wish R.E.M would return to something like this. Reveal was pretty bad, except for one or two songs.

  26. ‘New Adventures..’ is the last great album they made, but ‘Up’ has to rank as one of their most interesting It’s a bit disjointed, but I end up coming back to it every year or so (can’t believe it’s nearly 10 years since it came out) and still sounds pretty fresh.

    I couldn’t get into Reveal, but it’s got some nice moments. Several of the songs are improved on R.E.M.I.X – the Reveal remix album they offered for free on the official website. You can still get it here: http://www.remhq.com/extras/remix/remix.html
    (“I’ll Take The Rain” remixed by Jamie Candiloro is a highlight.)

    ‘Around The Sun’ I felt improved matters, although it’s still not entirely consistent. I really like “I Wanted To Be Wrong” and “The Ascent Of Man”.

    The new stuff has potential, you can get a rough recording of one of the recent “Working Rehearsal” gigs here: http://mp3.rem.sk/

  27. I gave up on R.E.M. after Document. After that album, everything was composed in reaction to the press they were getting. Buck hated the “jangle” moniker, so he went power chord. Stipe hated the “cryptic lyric” label and his narratives straightened out. Apart from “Nightswimming” and “Country Feedback”, I can’t think of a recent R.E.M. song that even comes close to rivaling “Sitting Still”, “Shaken Through” or “Harborcoat” for sheer bliss.

  28. Seriously, AD– do NOT check out “Reveal” or “Around the Sun”. R.E.M. was one of my very very passionately favorite bands for a long time, and ATS especially almost singlehandedly destroyed the bond I had with their music. What I’ve heard of Accelerate has me excited though. But yeesh, stay away from Reveal and Around the Sun, for the love of all that’s holy.

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