I’m with The Robster on the things he’s written about Monster these past two weeks. It’s worth remembering that it was released at a time when R.E.M. were the biggest contemporary musical act on the planet and its contents were greeted by some with a sense of disbelief. Some music critics were scathing of what had been written, recorded and put out into the shops:-
Monster is so much of a reaction to its predecessors that it can’t help but come across as something of an academic exercise in having fun. It’s this that distinguishes Monster from recent REM opuses. That, and the steak of disingenuity, make it a hard album to love unreservedly.
The words of Keith Cameron, reviewing the album for NME in September 1994. (It’s worth noting that the same writer had given Automatic for The People a 10/10 review in Vox magazine a few years earlier).
The thing is, from the perspective of the label, it really didn’t matter what the critics thought as the tickets for the world tour shows during 1995 sold out within minutes of being made available – old and new fans alike couldn’t wait to see the band again after such a long hiatus and Monster went straight in at #1 on the back of the mania.
Thinking back to its release, my first listen did bemuse me greatly. I had assumed the lead-off single to be something of a curveball, a comeback single to throw folk off-guard, and that the album would offer a blend of this was the occasional nod to the recent back catalogue. Not one bit of it, as it proved to be an all-out attack on the senses. Even when the tempo slowed to ballad time, the results left the listener feeling a tad unclean and uneasy (but I’ll come to that in Part 28 of this series in the new year!!).
As ever, with any new record, initial listens are accompanied by reading the sleeve notes, although in the era of CDs, the joy was diminished somewhat by the way things were now printed up. Indeed, so little info was contained with Monster that it could be consumed in the time it took to listen to the opening track which just happened to be the lead-off single, What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? but what caught my attention was this under the heading of additional players
Thurston Moore (Crush W.Eyeliner)
The appearance of the joint-leader of Sonic Youth was genuinely one to look forward to. Just two years earlier, they had come up from the underground in the UK thanks to the album Dirty which had gone Top 10 and had been much played during my daily commute between Glasgow and Edinburgh (one which came to an end a few weeks after the release of Monster as I landed a new job in my home city). And while Sonic Youth’s own 1994 album, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, hadn’t quite provided the same sort of impact, I was thrilled that the second track on Monster was sure to pay a nod to loud guitars
mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner
I was quite blown away by it, to the extent that I was waiting for the rest of the songs to live up to it, all of which meant I was left bemused as it felt the album had opened with two great songs that the rest hadn’t quite matched. But, as with so many genuinely great albums, the reward comes from repeated listens, and while it might have taken maybe six months or so (the change of job and circumstances meant that I wasn’t quite listening to music as much as I would have liked as the new job also meant that myself and Rachel could now go house-hunting!), by the summer of 95 I was smitten……but not enough to overcome my adversity to outdoor gigs and go see the band at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh when the tour eventually reached Scotland for a sole date.
The thing is, I never thought of Crush With Eyeliner as being an obvious single. Indeed, I didn’t see there being too many singles on the album, but the fact that they were proving to be such big hits only goes to show what little I know….or perhaps fans really just wanted to get their hands on yet more live tracks from the Greenpeace benefit show, as well as the instrumental version of the single made available on 7″ orange-coloured vinyl:-
mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner (instrumental)
mp3: R.E.M. – Fall On Me (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Me In Honey (live. Greenpeace)
mp3: R.E.M. – Finest Worksong (live, Greenpeace)
At least with Me In Honey, something a bit different was made available as a b-side and to be fair, the band does sound in very good form on all three tracks.
And finally to the 2019 remix.
I’m not a fan when bands do this sort of thing and I avoided going out and purchasing the 25th-anniversary reissue of Monster until I saw a vinyl copy on sale a few months ago, not long after I got myself the new turntable, amp and speakers. I was very pleasantly surprised by everything, to the extent that it actually felt like a whole new, perhaps previously ‘lost’, REM album had emerged blinking in the sunlight from the vaults.
The mix of Crush is one of those which is quite different…..the harsh edge has been removed and the lyric is much easier to pick up. Indeed, it is quite radio-friendly and kind of loses something as a result.
mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner (remix)
It was actually one of the few disappointments on the remix album, but it’s a disappointment of a very mild kind.
Please tune in tomorrow for a special companion piece to this one. That’s all I’m prepared to say for now, but I reckon you’ll all like it….