photo & text by nacrowe
i dont believe MONSTER (WARNER BROS, 1994) is the best or even the most consequential record by seminal INDIE ROCK band R.E.M., but it was the one that had the most effect on me during my time growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. OUT OF TIME (WARNER BROS, 1994) reminds me of my time in early elementary school and very much got me into playing guitar (which is ironic because that was a mandolin-heavy record written by guitarist PETER BUCK after being temporarily bored by his instrument), while MONSTER for me was a much more emotionally heavier affair.
originally conceived as a possible venue for collaboration with NIRVANA frontman KURT COBAIN, his unfortunate passing earlier in 1994 is sonically and spiritually all over this record. with its more muscular production and riff-heavy sonic textures and opaque lyrics that referenced and challenged notions of VIOLENCE, IDENTITY and SEXUALITY, MONSTER very much felt like a contemporary ALTERNATIVE ROCK record of the period. or at least as close as R.E.M. would ever venture.
i was 10 when COBAIN passed and it was a shock to me and my friends. my grandmother passed away around that period and between the two it was basically my introduction to the concept of DEATH. in particular i remember hearing "BANG AND BLAME" on 106.7FM KROQ all the time and how that song invoked (to me) the pain of being left behind and sorting out the emotional carnage in the wake of such an event. im almost certain that is not what singer/lyricist MICHAEL STIPE intended, but that was my interpretation. that was definitely a big song during my youth. ive read that "LET ME IN" was explicitly about COBAIN and written shortly after his passing. emotionally there is a sense of catharsis in STIPE's vocals on that track, which almost has a GOSPEL-tinge to it, as if you can imagine him singing it in front of a choral ensemble. the droning, guitars are lifted by a solemn lilting melody sung to great effect.
i remember taking two friends of mine in 1994 to KNOTT'S BERRY FARM for my birthday and my recollection of that period is very much painted by PEARL JAM's VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994) and MONSTER. especially the energetic singles "CRUSH WITH EYELINER," "WHAT'S THE FREQUENCY, KENNETH?" and "STAR 69." the waves of delayed fuzzed-out distortion on those tracks to me are still a high-water mark of BUCK's sound even though i am cognizant of how much of a departure such was from his signature clean, jangly, RICKENBACKER-based sound. to this day i cannot dissociate such from recollections of the period, at this point those tones are part of my sense of IDENTITY. i just remember going into 4th grade and having difficulty internalizing how the world was becoming more complex and my friends were changing (because of girls and puberty in retrospect). it felt like the rules were being altered and it was that moment of TRANSITION and TRANSFORMATION that this record crystallizes in my imagination. and this was all before i moved to AFRICA two years later, which was the real defining transition point of my life i can say now in retrospect. that was the rubicon after which nothing was the same.
so yeah, MONSTER to me represents a point in my youth when everything was up for grabs and the music oddly expresses such in my projected experience. to me AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (WARNER BROS, 1992) was their best record objectively, but i still hold out at times to MONSTER for emotional and sentimental reasons. it is definitely worth revisiting and further investigation, even among other standout records in their catalogue. highly recommended.