With their previous two records, R.E.M. paused touring and became a studio based band, following the lead of groups like XTC and late period Beatles, and focusing on intricate and acoustic based arrangements that would have been difficult to successfully recreate in arenas. When they decided to tour again, they purposefully created a loud and aggressive album that would be fun to recreate live. Monster trades in R.E.M.’s usual sincerity and restrained arrangements for a sound that’s equal measures of 1970s’ glam and 1990s’ grunge. At times Monster is successful, with Peter Buck generating some great guitar noise with layers of tremolo and reverb, but with generally simple songs and limited stylistic variation, as a whole the album is underwhelming.
Monster does have its moments; opener ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ might be my favourite R.E.M. song ever, with the tremolo guitar used as a central hook, while ‘Bang and Blame’ is another trashy and fun. ‘Strange Currencies’ is like an improved version of ‘Everybody Hurts’, while ‘I Don’t Sleep, I Dream’ showcases Stipe’s falsetto. But while the album sounds good initially, a lot of the tracks reveal themselves as routine on subsequent listens.
Monster‘s one of R.E.M.’s most trivial albums; although it does have a certain charm, don’t expect to get much mileage out of it.