Bang And Blame was the first song that really jumped out at me on ‘Monster’. It’s no surprise it was a single considering the album doesn’t have any of those horrid novelty songs I’ve bemoaned throughout this series. It has the quietLOUDquiet dynamic like every American alternative rock song of the period, which of course made it very MTV-friendly, but being R.E.M. it was somewhat restrained.
The song’s subject matter is debated. Some say it was written by Stipe as a lament to his relationship with actor River Phoenix who died the year before. Others have said it’s about domestic violence, with Stipe’s character trying to stand up for himself while being aware of his passivity and likelihood of being abused once more. One of the best summations I’ve come across is by a fan who wrote:
“…simmering rage and disgust mixed with two-faced empathy and sly manipulation laced with guilt. Sonically, it all explodes and then calms down panting with sexual grief. Then a teaser at the end, like a feather against your skin.”
I’ve no idea if any of these are right, or even close, but it is worth noting that River Phoenix’s sister Rain is one of the voices singing backing vocals in the chorus (along with Stipe’s own sister Lynda), so maybe that’s a hint? Whatever, as far as the music goes, the delay effect on the guitars give the song its identity, and there are some interesting layers among the overall recording. The aforementioned backing vocals, for instance. Short, sharp bursts of “bang” and, wait for it… “blame” don’t so much echo Stipe’s repeating of the words, to me they are scornful, taunting, a disparaging retort to the protagonist’s accusation. “Bang? Waddya mean ‘bang’? I don’t ‘bang’!” The sort of thing an arrogant abuser might use as a flimsy defence. I might have got completely the wrong end of the stick, mind. “And if I blame you it’s because it’s your own fault!”
Bang And Blame was one of the band’s most successful singles globally, making the top 40 in many countries, even becoming their only number one in Canada. In the UK it reached number 15. In spite of its chart success, it was not included on either of the band’s compilation albums ‘In Time’ or ‘Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage’. In fact, each only contain a solitary track from ‘Monster’ – What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? – which remains a tragedy. It was also a favourite during the Monster Tour in 1995, being played at nearly every show, but was never played again thereafter.
Anyway, in the UK, it was released in just three formats. All contained an ‘edit’ of the a-side, although in reality, it was actually the album version shorn of the short instrumental interlude tacked onto the end. The 7” and cassette contained the instrumental version (or the K Version as it was billed).
The CD had the next three tracks from the Greenpeace benefit show as mentioned last week. The first one is, well, it is what it is – the third live version of Losing My Religion to feature as a b-side. It wouldn’t be the last. Country Feedback is my favourite R.E.M. song and I’ve yet to hear a poor version of it. And Begin The Begin has some nice guitar sounds in it, maybe thanks to guest member John Keane, a long-time friend of the band and studio engineer. He played the pedal-steel on Country Feedback.
Last week we mentioned that we’d be including the 2019 remixes of the singles. The new mix of Bang And Blame isn’t radically different to the original (bar the backing vocals gaining way more prominence) until about halfway, after the bridge. Here, Scott Litt has made the bass and percussion the focus of attention, Bill Berry’s bongos especially. In the latter half of the song, the keyboard sound that flutters away almost unheard in the original is turned up. The overall mix is just that little bit brighter, I think. It is a little shorter too, even with the added interlude. I like it. Better than the original? Hmm, the jury is out…