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Album Reviews

Monster

1. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? 3:59
2. Crush With Eyeliner 4:39
3. King Of Comedy 3:39
4. I Don’t Sleep, I Dream 3:25
5. Star 69 3:07
6. Strange Currencies 3:51
7. Tongue 4:08
8. Bang And Blame 4:48
9. I Took Your Name 4:07
10. Let Me In 3:27
11. Circus Envy 4:14
12. You 4:52

All songs by Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe.


Monster cover

Ninth Album.

Released: 27th September 1994.
Record Label: Warner Bros.
12 Tracks.
Duration: 49:16

 

When U2 swapped their Romany drifter look for the PVC strides and comedy shades, there was, after the initial confusion, a general hum of approbation. World's Biggest Rock Group discover post-modernism and make one of the first truly '90s records, more knowing and blipvert-heavy than a Pot Noodle commercial. Almost three years on, World's Biggest Rock Group (Alternative Division) have seemingly decided that it's time for something similar. Thus, in a frenzied act of pruning, gone are the mandolins, old joannas and strings that made Automatic For The People such an expansive and delightful record. Monster is a balder and starker bit of landscaping and whether everything in the garden remains lovely is open to debate. Perhaps the thinking is that with a major tour in the offing, the band needed something compact and portable that they could take to the arenas of the world. Perhaps they feel that the colourful, often romantic settings of the last two albums have blurred the clean outlines of their rock and roll sound. Whatever, parsimony never goes amiss and a number of the songs such as the perky single What's The Frequency, Kenneth and the oppressive, twilit I Don't Sleep, I Dream benefit from this stripping down. Tongue, too - a sweetly, old-fashioned soul tract - will win admirers for its homely simplicity. This is REM par excellence, unconventional but somehow classic and with a sustaining, emotional heart. The problem is that some of the tracks have an offhand, indifferent feel that suggests they've been cooked up quickly, possibly at rehearsals. It's hard to imagine anyone rushing breathless and giddy to the other band members with a slapdash punk rebore like Star 69. Worse, Monster's closing three numbers pass by almost unnoticed apart from the grinding tremolo guitar sound that swamps the whole album. Strong songs have been sacrificed for an alienated mood that can quickly pall. Crush With Eyeliner and King Of Comedy, though, are naggingly good and With Love Comes Strange Currencies, a tender waltz that recalls Everybody Hurts, sounds warmingly sincere, particularly since Stipe's lyrics, even by his own lights, seem cryptic and muted overall. There's certainly nothing here as luminous and engaging as Nightswimming for instance. It's grossly unfair to use a group's own triumphs to browbeat them but we have to measure Monster by the standards REM have recently set. From that point of view, it often feels one-dimensional and obscure. Some of these songs will ring around the stadia of the world in the coming months. Whether they'll resound quite so long and loud in the living room is another matter.

By Stuart Maconie.


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