Label Warner Bros. Records
|Producer Scott Litt and R.E.M.|
Release date 27 September 1994
Genres Alternative rock, Grunge
|Released September 27, 1994 (1994-09-27)|
Recorded October 1993 – May 1994
Studio Kingsway Studio, New Orleans; Crossover Soundstage, Atlanta; Criteria Studios, Miami; Ocean Way Recording, Los Angeles
Monster (1994) R.E.M. Singles Collected (1994)
Nominations Grammy Award for Best Rock Album
Similar REM albums, Grunge albums
Monster is the ninth studio album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released in September 1994 on Warner Bros. Records. Co-produced by the band and Scott Litt and recorded in four different recording studios, Monster was an intentional stylistic shift from the group's preceding albums, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), consisting of loud, distorted guitar tones and simple song arrangements. Singer Michael Stipe's lyrics on the album dealt with the nature of celebrity, which he sang while assuming various characters.
Led by the successful single "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", Monster debuted at number one in the United States and at least seven other countries. Four further singles were released from the album in 1995, including UK Top 20 hits "Bang and Blame", "Strange Currencies" and "Tongue". The album received generally positive reviews from critics. In 1995, the band promoted the record with its first concert tour since 1989. Although the tour was commercially successful, it was marked by several personal health problems. The album's follow-up, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, was mostly recorded during the tour.
Early in 1993, the members of R.E.M. convened a four-day meeting in Acapulco, Mexico, to devise a plan for the next two years. The group settled on a plan for 1994 through the end of 1996, which included recording a new album and touring behind it. Drummer Bill Berry was particularly eager to tour (which the band had not done since 1989), and was insistent that the album "rock". The band agreed that after Out of Time and Automatic for the People they did not want to make another slow-paced album.
Later that year R.E.M. began recording its ninth album. Preproduction took place at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans under the supervision of Mark Howard, who had previously worked on Automatic for the People. The band wrote 45 songs for the record, including "a whole album's worth of acoustic stuff" that the band demoed, according to guitarist Peter Buck. Howard recalled that the sessions were more experimental for the band; he said, "The bass had a tremolo sound on it. It was a more inventive session for them." The studio did not have a control room, so Howard recorded Michael Stipe singing lyrical ideas while lying on a couch. Howard said, "Being able to put those vocals down helped him write the lyrics to a lot of songs on Monster." Once the sessions were complete, Howard played the recordings to co-producer Scott Litt, who had worked with the band since their fifth album Document.
In February 1994 the band moved to Crossover Soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia. At Crossover, most of the album's basic tracks were recorded live, as if the band were playing in concert. Litt said, "I thought since they hadn't toured in a while, it would be good for them to get into that mind-set--you know, monitors, PA, standing up". The sessions were hampered by a number of events, including Berry and bassist Mike Mills falling ill on separate occasions, Buck and Stipe leaving to visit family members, and the deaths of Stipe's friends River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain. The band wrote and recorded "Let Me In" in tribute to Cobain, and dedicated the album to Phoenix, whose sister Rain sang background vocals on "Bang and Blame".
In late April 1994, the band relocated to Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida, but recording was disrupted because Stipe suffered from a tooth abscess that required medical attention. Unlike previous album sessions, by the time production had moved to Ocean Way Recording in Los Angeles, California, the band was behind schedule. Litt attributed the delay to recording live at Crossover, which lengthened the mixing process; he told Rolling Stone, "We're trying to figure out how raw to leave it and how much to studiofy it." At the same time, Stipe was still writing when the band was supposed to be mixing the record. Tension arose between the band members, who were staying in different locations in Los Angeles and would rarely be in the studio at the same time. Tensions came to a head when the group was recording at Louie's Clubhouse, Litt's home studio in Los Angeles, where years later Stipe recalled, "We broke up . . . We reached the point where none of us could speak to each other, and we were in a small room, and we just said 'Fuck off' and that was it." The group had a meeting to resolve its issues; Mills told Rolling Stone, "We have to begin working as a unit again, which we haven't been doing very well lately."
In contrast to the sound of R.E.M.'s previous two records, the music of Monster consisted of distorted guitar tones, minimal overdubs, and touches of 1970s glam rock. Peter Buck described Monster as "a 'rock' record, with the rock in quotation marks." He explained, "That's not what we started out to make, but that's certainly how it turned out to be. There's a nudge, nudge, wink, wink feel to the whole record. Like, it's a rock record, but is it really?" Mike Mills told Time, "On past albums we had been exploring acoustic instruments, trying to use the piano and mandolin, and we did it about all we wanted to do it. And you come back to the fact that playing loud electric-guitar music is about as fun as music can be." Stipe's vocals were pushed back in the mix. Buck's guitar work on the album was inspired by the tremolo-heavy guitar playing of Glen Johansson from Echobelly, who supported R.E.M. for some of the Monster Tour.
Stipe wrote the lyrics of Monster in character. This, according to biographer Dan Buckley, "set the real Stipe at a distance from the mask adopted for each song." The album dealt with the nature of celebrity and "the creepiness of fandom as pathology". Buck said the album was a reaction to the band's popularity. He added, "When I read the lyrics I thought, all these guys are totally fucked up. I don't know who they are, because they're not Michael. I would say that this was the only time where he's done characters that are creepy, and I don't know if anyone got that. He was getting out his things by acting out these parts that are not him." The band noted that at the end of certain songs, they left blank choruses where Mills and Berry would traditionally sing harmonies so fans could sing along.
"The song 'Let Me In' is me on the phone to Kurt, trying to get him out of the frame of mind he was in," said Stipe. "I wanted him to know he didn't need to pay attention to all this; that he was going to make it through. I know what the next Nirvana record was going to sound like. It was going to be an amazing fucking record, and I'm a little angry at him for killing himself. He and I were going to make a trial run of the album. It was set up. He had a plane ticket. At the last minute he called and said, 'I can't come.'"
The cover artwork features a blurred drawing of a bear's head against an orange background. The cover concept originated when Stipe showed cover artist Chris Bilheimer a balloon he wanted to serve as the album cover, and told him to "play around with". Bilheimer changed the color of the balloon, which was originally green. He also had to re-photograph the bear head. When he was down to the last few frames on a roll of film, he took a few photos without bothering to focus the shots, which he and Stipe ended up liking the best.
The back cover features the body of the bear next to the track listing. The inside sleeve artwork features images of the cartoon character Migraine Boy. "I lifted Migraine Boy from the Flagpole," explained Michael Stipe to Molly McCommons, his 12-year-old interviewer and daughter of Flagpole editor Pete McCommons. "I'd like to officially thank Flagpole for introducing me to Greg Fiering and Migraine Boy. I haven't met Greg, but I've talked to him a lot on the phone. We were actually in San Francisco at the same time, but I was working on another project and we had a television visit for about two hours. This is an exclusive. I don't think anybody else knows about Migraine Boy yet."
The booklet contains several alternate names and working titles for songs involved in the recording process of the album. In interviews the band has described its process of naming albums this way: they tape a big sheet of paper up on the studio wall and then variously they write down random ideas when they occur to them. One song that is mentioned in the list is "Revolution," an outtake that later appeared on the Batman & Robin soundtrack and the bonus disc of In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003. "Yes, I Am Fucking with You" was the working title for "King of Comedy".
Release and reception
Upon its release, Monster debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. The album also debuted at the top of the British album charts. There were several hits from the album, particularly "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", "Crush with Eyeliner", "Strange Currencies," and "Bang and Blame". The last of these was the band's last U.S. Billboard Top 40 hit. "Star 69" also charted, despite not being released as a single.
The album was among the first promoted with online content, also distributed physically via floppy disk.
"Monster" received general acclaim upon release. Rolling Stone gave Monster four and a half stars. Critic Robert Palmer noted that Stipe's lyrics dealt with issues of identity ("The concept of reality itself is being called into question: Is this my life or an incredible virtual simulation?") and that occasionally the singer "begins to sound not unlike the proverbial rock star, whining about all those fans who just won't let him alone." He added, "What's truly impressive about Monster is the way R.E.M. make an album with such potentially grave subject matter so much fun." NME gave the album a seven out of ten rating. Reviewer Keith Cameron wrote, "It’s fun, frequently, but we feel distanced, engaged only on a secondhand level. Moreover, the loudly trumpeted fox factor has been conspicuous by its absence." Cameron concluded, "At best stunning, at worst merely diverting, Monster sounds like the album they 'had' to make, to clear out their system, a simple prop to occupy our time..." Allmusic rated the album two and a half stars out of five; Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, "Monster doesn't have the conceptual unity or consistently brilliant songwriting of Automatic for the People, but it does offer a wide range of sonic textures that have never been heard on an R.E.M. album before."
In 2005, Warner Bros. issued an expanded two-disc edition of Monster which includes a CD, a DVD-Audio disc containing a 5.1-channel surround sound mix of the album done by Elliot Scheiner, and the original CD booklet with expanded liner notes.
In November 2011, Monster was ranked number nine on Guitar World magazine's top ten list of guitar albums of 1994, between Rancid's Let's Go and Tesla's Bust a Nut. Guitar World also placed the album in their "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994" list. Rolling Stone originally named it the year's second best album, but in 2014 they named it the fifteenth best.
Despite experiencing their highest chart positions to date in 1991 and 1992, the band had elected not to tour, having found the year-long Green tour draining. The Monster tour would be the group's first outing in six years. The tour, which played in arenas and amphitheaters, began in January 1995 with shows in Australia and Japan, and continued throughout Europe and the United States for the remainder of the year. Support acts included Sonic Youth and Radiohead. The tour was a huge commercial success, but the period was difficult for the group. On March 1, Berry collapsed on stage during a performance in Lausanne, Switzerland, having suffered a brain aneurysm. He had surgery immediately and recovered fully within a month. Berry's aneurysm was only the beginning of a series of health problems that plagued the Monster Tour. Mills had to undergo abdominal surgery to remove an intestinal adhesion in July; a month later, Stipe had to have an emergency surgery to repair a hernia. In spite of these factors, the group composed and debuted a number of new songs while on the tour, and recorded the bulk of New Adventures in Hi-Fi, their follow-up to Monster, while on the road. The band brought along eight-track recorders to capture its shows, and used the recordings as the base elements for the album.
All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe.
- "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" – 4:00
- "Crush with Eyeliner" – 4:39
- "King of Comedy" – 3:40
- "I Don't Sleep, I Dream" – 3:27
- "Star 69" – 3:07
- "Strange Currencies" – 3:52
- "Tongue" – 4:13
- "Bang and Blame" – 5:30
- "I Took Your Name" – 4:02
- "Let Me In" – 3:28
- "Circus Envy" – 4:15
- "You" – 4:54
1What's the Frequency - Kenneth? - Radio Version4:00
2Crush With Eyeliner4:39
3King of Comedy3:41