This is a new feature I’m going to drop in every once and a while. It’s called Underrated\Overrated. Each time I will select an album that I feel is, this might shock you, either overrated or underrated and I’ll try and explain why. No doubt this will descend into me just being pedantic, petty, mean and over opiniated, but it should kill sometime and it might make your rethink something that you’d forgotten. For the first one I’ve picked R.E.M.-Monster. Personally this is the most important R.E.M. since Reckoning and Green.
Monster was released in 1994. Before its release R.E.M. said they were recording a rock album. People got excited. When it was finally released in September 1994, some fans were disappointed as it was the rock album they expected. Personally I loved it. This was probably because I didn’t know much about them before I’d heard it and I wasn’t comparing it to anything. Another reason why it might have received a slightly lukewarm reception, is that in 1994 US Alt-Rock was at its height and grunge was king. So this was definitely an influence on the album (Thurston Moore features on crush with Eyeliner).
Being 14 when the album came out there was something exciting about seeing them perform on Top of the Pops.
Watching it now it looks slightly tame and well, mid 90’s. Mick Mills still looks cool though, but at the time I loved it and it was a talking point at school the next day. “Did you see the R.E.M. video? It was mental, there was a guy dressed as a gorilla and he had a TOTP sticker on his arse!”
What I really liked about this album at the time were the lyrics. They were really dark and self-deprecating and quite funny. I’d ever really thought about lyrics before I heard this album. They were always just words that rhymed, but these lyrics connected to me like none had done before. The other thing that spoke to me was the music. It contained fuzzy guitars and as the production was quite muddy in places, it felt a bit like a live album. I just remember playing it for what seemed like forever (in fact it was probably a few weeks). It was a slight joke in my registration at school “Still listening to Monster?” I’d reply “Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” the normal reply was laughter. One time a girl in my registration group said “I like it too, but when you get bored by it let me know and I’ll lend you something you should like”. I can’t remember if I ever took her up on the offer, but I expect it would have been an L7 comp.
That’s how I felt about it then, how do I feel about it now? Pretty much the same. Since 1994 I have gotten in to lyrics more and I realise that the lyrics aren’t as good as I originally thought, but over the years they have taken on different meanings. I now understand more of what was going on musically and culturally and I get what they were writing about. I also think that the album is a lot darker than I originally thought. It contains a lot of rock clichés (rock star moaning about being famous and how annoying it is to be famous), but it still sounds like they’re having a good time.
As Monster didn’t sell as well as Automatic for the People (and it wasn’t a well-received) it was the start of R.E.M.’s slump. Personally I think that the run of albums from Monster to Around the Sun contains some of the most interesting and ‘classic R.E.M.’ songs they ever wrote. Yes they never reached the heights of Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People and Everybody Hurts, but with songs like E-Bow the Letter, Daysleeping and Imation of Life who needs the others!
In closing I still find this as intriguing and enjoyable as I did the first time I heard it. I’ve never got bored of it either, because each time I play it I get something new from it. For me this is why the album is underrated. Granted it could be my personal experiences with the album that make it enjoyable. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? was on a tape we played while we were drinking at a local park when we were 17. Strange Currencies was on a tape a friends sister always used to play when she drove us anywhere in her car. I spent a night at a friends after he’d either got dumped\rejected by some girl and he kept playing the final track You. In hindsight this should have really worried me, as the lyrics border on stalker territory, but at the time I was just there for my mate.
If you’ve never heard this amazing album, I implore you to play it. If you know and love it, why not dust off your copy and give it another listen for old time’s sakes, I know I will!
R.E.M. – Star 69
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