18 January 2013

R.E.M. - Monster

Sometimes albums arrive and should have titled like of the fictional ones in Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy - ie - from Oolong Colluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters "Where God Went Wrong" "Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes" and "Who is This God Person, Anyway?". The album is sort of doomed to failure no matter what they try to do. It happened to Pink Floyd after The Wall with the hangover that is The Final Cut. It happened to Faith No More after Angel Dust with King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime. Hopefully it will happen to Lady Gaga, but I digress as she needs to do a brilliant album first.  For R.E.M. in some peoples' eyes this happened in 1994 with Monster, which followed Automatic For The People.

To some people, they were now this gentle mournfully giant of a band that never found a distortion peddle and they would happily continue in that vain for their natural existence. But R.E.M. were not always like that, and like all men of a certain age, this can be classed as their midlife crisis, their collective attempt to kick out the jams and prove to themselves they could still write dark and energetic songs. Sometimes it can be a folly to try to regain ones youth, but people do have to try things to see if they work. For this album, it is a case of some of it is very good, other parts not so good.

Produced between the band and long time producer Scott Litt, it all sounds very familiar - sort of like the most comfy house that you've ever lived in, but with something slightly wrong. It is as if they were trying to remember how to be a band again, instead of a studio project (which was the situation anyway, as they had not toured in the 6 years before this was released). Opening track "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" tries to prove that they could still play with the best of them, "Crush With Eyeliner" is another attempt to reconnect with the indie crowd and "Let Me In" is a touching tribute to Kurt Cobain from Michael Stipes.

The thing is that for all of this trying to change who they were, they could not escape what they had become. "Tongue" and the admittedly brilliant "Strange Currencies" could have both easily been off their last two albums with the guitar turned down. Also, it does have that trying too hard vibe about it. They had to make this album for themselves, but it was not what they needed to make. That would come later, but at the point of releasing this album and as successful as it was, it can only be looked at as a bit if a disappointment. It is not as good as they were capable of creating. The big plus point to that as well is that they did not try to do Out of Time or Automatic for The People once more, but it does not hide the flaws.  It is not their worst album, but it is by no means anything other than average.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

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You can listen to on Spotify here

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