Monster (25th Anniversary Edition) [2019 Remaster]

Monster (25th Anniversary Edition) [2019 Remaster]

By the time R.E.M. began work on Monster in 1993, everything had changed. “We’d kind of disappeared,” guitarist Peter Buck tells Apple Music. “Except for making these records that sold huge amounts of copies.” Those records were 1991’s Out of Time and 1992’s Automatic for the People, dual breakthroughs that—despite a years-long break from touring—amassed Grammys and platinum certificates. At the end of their first decade, R.E.M. had evolved from indie darlings to elder statesmen for an alt-rock revolution they’d essentially engineered, earning their place as pop stars in the process. Stakes were high. “But one of the things that success affords you is the ability to do something different,” Buck says. “It's best to make left turns when you can.” Knowing that they needed to return to the road—and that they’d be filling arenas—they wanted songs to match the occasion. Where Automatic for the People was clean, spacious, and built almost entirely on warm beds of midtempo acoustic guitar, Monster would be its polar opposite. “We wanted intensity and power,” Buck says. “We didn't want to do a bunch of really slow songs.” Pulling influence from ’70s glam rock, it’s a grimy but often guarded response to their newfound celebrity, draped in electric guitars far thicker than any R.E.M. fan could have expected, even if grunge had made them fashionable. Michael Stipe’s lyrics—written mostly in character, at a distance—are just as inscrutable, and his vocals so buried in longtime producer Scott Litt’s mix that Litt spent the intervening years asking the band for another pass. That remix—included here—massages Buck’s guitars and elevates Stipe’s voice, casting the record in a new, more accessible light. “I think he wanted to make the record like it was us doing Document in ’87,” Buck says of Litt’s remix. “So he took away a lot of what he would consider to be extraneous stuff. I think it’s cool—it makes me rethink what the record was a little bit.” Twenty-five years later, Monster continues to occupy a peculiar spot in the band’s catalog. Recording had been bookended by tragedy—the death of Stipe’s friend, actor River Phoenix, delayed its start; the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain resulted in the devastating tribute “Let Me In,” the last song they’d track—and punctuated by health issues and the birth of Buck’s twin daughters. By juxtaposing the original mix with the remix, as well as a 1995 live recording from Chicago and a host of mostly instrumental demos, the anniversary reissue adds new dimension not just to the album but to our picture of the band in that moment. It's more timestamp than classic, an inflection point between eras. “I just remember that we were really hurried,” Buck says. “It was the first album of ours that we couldn't quite stick the landing. Reviews were mixed and I just thought, ‘Well, whatever, we'll go on to the next thing.’ But now, when people bring me piles of stuff to sign, I see more of Monster than probably anything. It's not my favorite, but it's a record I'm really proud of.” Here, Buck speaks on some of the album’s key tracks, as well his personal favorite “I Took Your Name” and the instrumental demo “Pete’s Hit.” What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? “I just didn't want to do some kind of, you know, whatever solo. There are a million solos every week, so I felt like, ‘Well, I'll do this backwards.’ That was the day where you just turn the tape around. That solo kind of takes it away from hard rock. All of a sudden, it gets kind of psychedelic and weird at the center. The remix took out some of the tremolo stuff and made it more streamlined. I tend to go for the original—I liked certain stuff. The record turned out the way it did because of who we were right then. But that said, [the remix] would make more sense on the radio if it was ’95 again, or ’94. Whatever year it was.” Crush With Eyeliner “Those are just super simple chords, and it's the tremolo that turns it into something vaguely threatening. At the same time, think about where the lyrics were heading. You know, we didn't really hear them at the beginning. This is the first record where we didn't have finished vocals for a lot of things. But as Michael's lyrics started coming in, there seemed to be a lot of paranoia and obsession. Not necessarily from a firsthand perspective, but more the characters. And so I think we tended to make the record a little bit more claustrophobic. Not necessarily as a goal, just kind of filling in what was going on feeling-wise.” Star 69 “You know, if you go back and listen to Murmur, I was of the opinion then that a real songwriter had to use about 20 chords in each song and change the key five times. ‘Star 69’ was just super fun to play. It’s all about the momentum of the song and the chords having that feeling of inevitability. I didn't think that people were going to be studying this and trying to figure out how I did it 20 years from now, because how I did it was easy. I figured a 10th-grader could probably figure it out.” Strange Currencies “I remember coming in with that, and Mike [Mills] said, ‘Peter, the bridge is from “Time Is on My Side.”’ And I went, ‘Oh man, you're right.’ It isn't that hard, but it felt like it. So jokingly I called it ‘Time Is on Mike's Side.’ We cobbled together a different bridge, which wasn't a million miles away. I was dabbling on all the arpeggios with non-note sounds, but right on the beat. So you get all these kind of twangy, twingy sounds going on. I think that's another thing that kind of disappeared a little bit from that remix.” Bang and Blame “I didn't even realize that this was on this record until I went back and listened. I thought it was on the next one. It was probably the poppiest thing on the record, one that maybe stood out a little bit as not exactly fitting. But I like the song. And funny enough, I don't think we ever played it live. Did we? Sometimes you just don't have any idea why you don't play something. Like, we never played ‘Ignoreland’ until the last tour, and yet I love that song. I think sometimes you just feel like you didn't quite catch it. And then years later, you listen to it and you go, ‘Wow, that's really well done. That's a good song.’” I Took Your Name “It's got these total Fun House chords. It's another song that doesn't take a huge amount of songwriting prowess to come up with. It just sounds really big and really threatening. We played that all during that tour, and I'm pretty sure we were still doing it on the last tour in 2008. I think it sounds like it came from a jam. It's following the tone of the guitar, the weight itself—all of us just playing.” Let Me In “I remember sitting in the control room watching Mike [Stipe] record it, and just as a listener in the studio, it was super intense. There was definitely a sense that it was about Kurt. You’ve got to remember that about halfway through that record, right until the end of the tour, everything was just kind of insane in every single fucking way. And I don't know what I would've done if I sat around the house. I suppose we could have all just said, ‘You know what, let's just go to a beach and come back in a year and do it.’ But that's not the kind of people we are. Doing it makes more sense than not doing it to me. We've gone through ups and downs as friends and as a band, but when it comes right down to it, we're really close and it feels good to work.” Pete’s Hit “I showed that to the guys and they were like, ‘That's a hit.' And I'm like, 'I don't know. I mean, it doesn't feel finished to me.' It's really catchy, but I'm not sure catchy was what we were going for that year. I still play around with that riff and those chords. I don't usually forget stuff that's good. Every now and again, I'll pull that out and I'll play it and then add something different. And I still haven't used it. I'm going to die with it, and that's okay. But then again, I might finish it next week.”

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