Posts tagged ‘R.E.M.’

Why Monster?

There’s a long history of highly successful pop acts suddenly becoming exhausted by their own personas and adopting a new artifice for the sake of a song, a record, or even a tour. The Beatles started it off, as they started all good things, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust. The Turtles became many groups on their Battle of the Bands album. Hell, even Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines.

R.E.M. became…well, they actually remained R.E.M. They just put out Monster. Following on the heels of Green, Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, it was a pretty hard stylistic left turn. Bombastic, lurching, and glam.

It’s a great record, but it doesn’t seem to have clung very tightly to the pop consciousness. That’s the takeaway from Sean McCarthy’s piece for PopMatters, in which he spends seven long years trying to trade in a used copy of Monster at CD emporiums throughout the country, ultimately tossing it into a bin of “As Is – No Guarantees” discs alongside Hootie and the Blowfish and Alanis Morrisette. An ignoble end, to be sure.

If I had to guess why so many of us have bailed on Monster, it would be that stylistic left turn. Again, I think it’s a great record. It just doesn’t fit easily into the overall shared conception of what R.E.M. is. You can follow the thread pretty easily through their career, from Murmur right on up to Accelerate, and you can see where they definitely incorporated some of the tricks and sounds they learned on Monster on later records (especially its follow-up, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, recorded partially while the band was on the massive Monster tour). But it kinda sticks out like a sore thumb; it’s not an easy fit into the band’s own output, and it’s not an easy fit into the era; it was inspired by but didn’t seem to inspire much around it.

Which I think was ultimately the point. Lyrically, Monster finds Michael Stipe exploring the ideas of artifice and unreality; “How can I convince her/that I’m invented too?” he sings on “Crush With Eyeliner,” and that’s always been the key to the record for me. How we invent ourselves every day and every minute, in each new interaction with other people and the world around us.

I’ve always thought it was pretty damn brilliant – an album about self-invention in which the band themselves engage in a thorough self-invention of their own, defying their audience and their own success to follow where they’re going, which was ultimately nowhere at all.

January 6, 2010 at 9:56 am 2 comments

Early R.E.M. Record Review

Stereogum has a Premature Evaluation of the new R.E.M. record, written by R.E.M. song blogger Matthew Perpetua. It sounds RAD.

February 12, 2008 at 10:32 am 2 comments


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