Warner Bros. Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


After reading this review, I want every person who reads this review to go out and buy Monster. Normally, I don't directly request that readers go out and buy my recommendations immediately, but Monster is a special case: it's cheap. It could very well be the cheapest album in pop music. No matter how small, virtually every used record store has about ten copies in their catalog. You can currently buy a used copy on for a penny. A friggin' penny!

What earned Monster this dubious distinction? What about this album made it almost impossible for record store clerks to ever sell a new mint copy of Monster again? It's one of the myths of modern pop -- sort of like how Hootie and the Blowfish and the Backstreet Boys can sell ten million albums but no one will claim ownership of their CDs. Before we examine why there are so many used copies of Monster, it's important to examine what made droves of people purchase the album. After all, those used bins didn't fill themselves.

After Document, R.E.M. released a trifecta of folksier, more mellow albums. Green, Out Of Time and Automatic For The Peoplemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 each grew more mellow and introspective. Monster promised a return to the more guitar-oriented sounds that made Document so beloved. Still, it's not like people hated these three albums. All made the top ten and sold at least a million copies (hell, R.E.M. would most likely kill for a gold album nowadays). On top of that, Automatic For The People has been regarded as R.E.M.'s best work. Still, when early press leaked out that R.E.M. was plugging in the amps and going full tilt, fans began salivating.

The album sold like gangbusters for the first few weeks. Their first single, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" was a nice single to reintroduce R.E.M.'s return to rock. It featured Michael Stipe's stream of conscious, marble-mouthed delivery and Peter Buck's echoing guitar roar. The second track, "Crush With Eyeliner" has a great, sexy vibe, courtesy of Peter Buck's guitar and has Stipe at his campy best.

Scott Litt's production is excellent throughout Monster. It's safe to say that if you played a track from Monster to most any R.E.M. fan, they could tell you it came from this album, even if the title escaped their memory. Fans will also regard Monster as the beginning of the end of Bill Berry's stint as drummer, something that R.E.M. has never fully recovered from. His last full work would come with their next album, New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

Monster is not a career suicide album that would force people to turn in their copies. In fact, it's a fairly pedestrian album. Returning to rock roots after experimenting with techno or folk is hardly a risky venture (just ask U2 or Radiohead). Still, when artists return to their "roots", they can oftentimes paint themselves into a corner. And Monster has that inescapable feel of backtracking.

"Strange Currencies," "Bang and Blame" and "I Took Your Name" just don't have that lasting power of earlier R.E.M. songs. And even though Kurt Cobain professed great admiration for Michael Stipe, his eulogy to the departed Cobain, "Let Me In" doesn't have near the emotional authenticity that it should have.

In essence, as refreshing as it was to hear R.E.M. return to form, Monster's novelty quickly staled with hardcore fans. If listeners want to hear a great R.E.M. rock album, they are most likely going to throw on Document or Fables Of The Reconstruction. Still, that doesn't mean Monster is a space filler in your CD tower. Taken as a whole, the album is surprisingly good. The only problem is that for fans of R.E.M., it's hard to look at post- Document albums as albums and more as stages of development, or notches on a growth chart for the band.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B


© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Bros. Records, and is used for informational purposes only.