Monster, by REM
Suggested by Mike Wootton
REM have something very exciting: a career arc. Not a lot of bands get one of those.
It’s like your favourite TV show. You watch it grow from likely modest roots, gaining a fanbase and skipping through the seasons. Then it hits a high point, and it’s bliss. Things begin to wane a little, although it’s still great, but next thing you’re wondering if the spark has gone. You start wondering if it’ll attain a former glory, or if it will simply fade away. If you’re lucky it’ll run its course to a grand and planned finale, but sometimes it’ll hit an unexpected cancellation and you’re left wondering what might have been.
The lifespan of a band is similar. You follow with interest, through the exciting debut and past the difficult second album. They hit their stride and thrill the world at the height of their powers, before they begin a slow descent down the slopes into mediocrity, irrelevance and dissolution. If they don’t hit an untimely death or a sex scandal first.
REM’s Monster showcases a band still primed and packing the stadium floors, but even their stalwart fans must admit that Monster’s release marked them cresting the bell curve to begin their downhill slalom. Ask any punter on the street to name an REM song, and most would name four or five before they picked anything off this album.
It’s a little diversion from the crafted REM sound, with a turn towards more distorted guitars and rock flourishes. As usual, Michael Stipe’s unique voice is the powering force behind each track, but their less-polished sensibilities mean that sometimes he’s lost in the cacophony. The tracks on which he’s not lead vocal are the least engaging, as you’d expect.
There is still a lot to like about Monster. Almost every song has something praiseworthy, from the sleazy Crush With Eyeliner to the infectious Star 69. Let Me In is Stipe’s message to a Kurt Kobain, who’d died earlier that year. It’s personal and raw, but a touch indecipherable. The most memorable track is likely the opener and first single What’s The Frequency, Kenneth, but I’m going for Strange Currencies as my choice for standout track. It too was a single, and while I appreciate WTF Kev for what it is, it’s well down the list of most impactful REM songs ever written.
REM’s career was already on the wane in 1994, but this album is still a strong offering from a band not too far past their pomp. Their Monster gets 6/10, as it can still scare well enough even if it’s not truly terrifying.