R.E.M releases monstrous 25th anniversary reissue of 1994’s Monster album
Guitarist Peter Buck has a fuzzbox and he knows how to use it. Well, that and some sort of tremolo device. This is what I thought when I first heard, – check that – saw the “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” video on MuchMusic in 1994, the first single off their album, Monster. A barrage of grungy tremolo guitar, unusually boomy bass from melodious Mike Mills, combine with Bill Berry’s loud driving drums and of course Michael Stipe’s sometimes less than decipherable distinctive vocals sitting within the mix, came across as a statement of the times.
The quadruple platinum-selling album, Monster was dirtier, grittier than their previous two multi-platinum winning adventures, the hugely popular Automatic For The People featuring dark mellow alt-rock statement hits like “Everybody Hurts,” “Man on the Moon,” and “Try not to Breathe,” where Stipe’s voice took centre stage on the heals of the band’s most successful pop exploit, Out of Time. Those releases were curiously incongruous to the Seattle grunge sound at the time. But this is of no surprise as R.E.M continually alters their sound keeping their devout fans both interested and intrigued by what is yet to come.
R.E.M was one of the most influential alt rock bands in North America if not the world. King of grunge, the late Kurt Cobain explains back in the early nineties, “If I could write just a couple of songs as good as what they’ve written…I don’t know how that band does what they do. God they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.” Cobain in fact along with his wife Courtney Love was such a big fan they bought a house right beside REM guitarist Peter Buck’s new house in Seattle. The members of R.E.M and Nirvana became friends.
And Michael Stipe explains in and interview with MSNBC that “part of Monster was a way to maintain that credibility amongst a younger group of people who were inspired by the way they had forged our way through a very difficult industry, and done so without losing our sense of respect for ourselves.”
R.EM. bassist, Mike Mills backs that up explaining, “Yeah to know what you don’t want to do and to forge on with that regardless of whether they tell you you’re not going to make it – ‘you can’t do it that way you have to do it this way’ – we rejected that and we were still successful. And I think that gave inspiration to a lot of people.”
Monster crawled out from beneath the shadow of grunge along with the barrage-of-sound approach by contemporaries like Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Teenage Fanclub, PJ Harvey and more.
In an interview with NME Stipe explains before releasing Monster they were at the peak of their fame, and culture had shifted, so setting out to do their first tour in five years they “decided we needed to do something loud and raw after two albums that were very popular with slow or medium tempo songs, and we turned to our love of glam rock in the early seventies and the influence it had on us as musicians and as fan boys and that was the beginning of Monster.” They were thinking about how they were going to present themselves to new fans who didn’t know them at all. “It needed swagger, it needed humour and irony,” declares Stipe. “We had to respond to all the change paved by the grunge era bands.”
And they certainly did. Monster hits “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?,” “Crush with Eyeliner” as well as “King of Comedy,” “Bang and Blame,” and “I took Your Name,” were their dirtiest, grungiest tracks since “Orange Crush” on 1988’s Green album.
About the 25th Anniversary edition, the entire album was remixed for the special edition and it features both versions; a remastered original made by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, and the 2019 remix by REM’s longtime producer, Scott Litt. You can also compare every track by toggling between the 1994 version and the new mix. In a press release Litt who produced the original Monster album, said he had struggled with the original mix and had always wanted to try mixing it again if there was ever a chance. You can download the A/B interactive app, or compare the tracks on Apple Music or Spotify and almost seamlessly switch back and forth between the two tracks of each song. Or check it out right here: monster25.remhq.com.
At first listen, it seems the dirty tremolo guitar has been cleaned up and the vocals are more on top of the mix, more in tune with the previous two albums, rather than buried deeper within.
The 180-gram vinyl double-album edition, purchased by the Toronto Times on its November 1 release date at Sonic Boom Records has a blue cover, as opposed to 1994’s orange cover and contains the two complete versions of the album. It also contains all the lyrics for the first time.
Toronto’s Sonic Boom Records also created a ‘monstrous’ window display to honour the release, using 400 copies of the 1994 orange CD as the backdrop for a floor to ceiling blue bear, who apparently goes by the name of Tilley as bassist Mike Mills mentions in their unboxing on R.E.M’s Facebook page. According to their Instagram account, the Orange CDs were all purchased over the last 15 years from customers who visited their store.
Also included in the massive 6-disc re-issue are 15 previously unreleased demos, a 25-song concert recording from the 1995 Monster tour, 5-CDs and a Blu-Ray consisting of the mid-90s concert film Road Movie, the Scott Litt stereo mix, unreleased demos and a 5.1 surround sound mix, as well as Monster’s music videos, liner notes, new band interviews and more.
by Terence Lankstead
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