You Wore Your ExPOLLtations Like An Armored Suit: REM's "Monster"

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This album has been rather thoroughly discussed by ILM, particularly here:
and here:
Taking Sides: ACHTUNG BABY by U2 VS. MONSTER by R.E.M

...but why not have a poll to sing the praises of its best moments? A fair case could be made that this was an undercooked album, mis-promoted in ways that brought its failings disproportionately into focus - this is not a convincing "return to rock" but maybe it was never meant to be. As a cloudy, defensive meditation on stardom it's perfectly serviceable, and there are a number of gems buried in the "vague, shapeless, protoplasmic gobbet of greyish brown glop" to borrow Custos's description.

This is also their first album since "Green" where the issue of the band's image really overshadows the proceedings; the "Achtung Baby" thread raised the issue of 90s irony and what it meant for each band; my comment was: "REM - tough kids from the mean streets of Athens, GA??? It's just so out of touch with their previous 'image' that one wants to read it as some sort of literate, deliberate posture rather than a sincere sell..." - but certainly it's hard to separate Monster from the look and feel of the "Bang and Blame" video...

But I digress!

Poll Results

What's The Frequency, Kenneth? 17
Strange Currencies 13
Let Me In 9
Crush With Eyeliner 4
Bang and Blame 3
Tongue 2
I Don't Sleep, I Dream 2
King of Comedy 2
Circus Envy 1
Star 69 0
I Took Your Name 0
You 0

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 00:18 (nine years ago) Permalink


Manchego Bay (G00blar), Monday, 1 December 2008 00:20 (nine years ago) Permalink

had to go for "strange currencies" simply for its ubiquity at my middle school dances.

Shh! It's NOT Me!, Monday, 1 December 2008 00:23 (nine years ago) Permalink

I wish I had gone to your middle school! Great song. Did it as a karaoke duet one time and I still think a high-profile duet cover could be a great hit. Sort of a Hey Paul, Hey Paula thing - "I don't know why you're mean to me..."

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 00:24 (nine years ago) Permalink

I was outside having a cigarette thinking about those dances and all of a sudden I remember why it was played: I was the DJ. I was already an atrocious alternative/indie snob back then and found that "Strange Currencies" was the best compromise for the fact that nobody would accept "Driveway to Driveway" by Superchunk as an acceptable slow dance song. I had to borrow the copy of "Monster", "Foolish" was mine.

I was also able to play "The Crab Louse" by the Lords of Acid for all of 45 seconds before the teachers realized what was going on ;-)

Shh! It's NOT Me!, Monday, 1 December 2008 00:32 (nine years ago) Permalink

Is it a good thing when a band records their "We're famous. How should we deal with this?" album? I'm not so sure, since that could easily lead to disappearing up your own ass. (In that regard, the U2 album it should be compared to is Zooropa, not Achtung Baby.)

I voted "King of Comedy," and I suspect I'll be the only one.

Hideous Lump, Monday, 1 December 2008 02:52 (nine years ago) Permalink

Surely Zooropa and Pop were vanishing up some imaginary raver's ass? U2 vanished up their own ass when they disowned their techno-tendencies for a "return to rock!".

Monster was a worthy attempt at doing something else but the grandeur of Automatic was a lot to give up for me.

Shh! It's NOT Me!, Monday, 1 December 2008 02:58 (nine years ago) Permalink

"Let Me In," the best song from the opening distorted chord.

ilxor, Monday, 1 December 2008 03:26 (nine years ago) Permalink

I was also able to play "The Crab Louse" by the Lords of Acid for all of 45 seconds before the teachers realized what was going on ;-)


It was a tough call between "Strange Currencies" and "I Don't Sleep, I Dream." The former won.

Johnny Fever, Monday, 1 December 2008 03:38 (nine years ago) Permalink

For me the candidates are:

Star 69
Strange Currencies
Let Me In
Circus Envy

Of which I think "Tongue" is probably the best, will mull it over though...

I do kinda like "Kenneth" but it just doesn't get to me on any level other than being cool to sing along to. I guess Star 69 and Circus Envy are on that level too but there's some drama in both, some urgency - This monster in me makes me retch you messed it messed it up and the bitter declaration of I'm not your patsy let you overlook the fact that the songs in question also feature references squirrelies chewing the wires and dropping coconuts on people's heads from trees. (I don't think either of those are bad things to have in a song, mind.)

Also great, the reference to spelling someone's name "with Oatios," which always reminds me of this:

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 03:56 (nine years ago) Permalink

Man, "King of Comedy" is really sunk by that vocal effect. It sounds like my first experiments with the flanger in CoolEdit 96 - just really watery and weak, makes me feel like they recorded the vocal, said "well this kinda can't compete with the rest of the mix," and just threw this effect on it. The rest of the track has a really great sound, IMO, especially the way the background vocals fit into the rest of the deep-fried wall of sound. But when I picture him going "MHAHKE YGHRR M0HFHNY" it makes me not want to pull the record out of the sleeve.

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 18:26 (nine years ago) Permalink

"Circus Envy", what a song. The album is kinda monstrously long, but cds were newish and everybody was filling space at the time. I'd happily delete "Strange Currencies" off this cd, and "I Took Your Name", and one of "King of Comedy" and "Crush With Eyeliner" since they're kinda the same song.

Euler, Monday, 1 December 2008 21:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

Were CDs that new then? I wasn't really paying attention to new music at the time so I'll take your word for it.

If it's KoC versus Crush With Eyeliner, I would save Crush With Eyeliner, mainly for a guy I know hearing the lyric as "she's a sack of tomatoes." I also have a fond memory of listening to 99X when they were running a contest for concert tickets where you had to guess the songs from really brief snippets; one caller, basing his guesses on the previous callers', dubbed the song "Crush The Violiner," which would really improve the track in my opinion.

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:01 (nine years ago) Permalink

CDs weren't that new, but I think it took adjustment for bands who made albums in the vinyl era, to adapt to having more space to spread out. Some never have (cough Neil Young).

I'd probably pick "King of Comedy" to save, because I like the chorus a little more, but actually I could do without both. "Circus Envy" does the same things and way more. That's such a fabulous song.

see I don't remember 99X playing anything off this album but I was only in ATL for summers at that point, and it came out in September so I was already gone. I also didn't have TV from 1992 on so I've never seen any REM videos since "Everybody Hurts". I guess "Bang and Blame" had a noteworthy video? I love that song too, just listened to it in fact and marveled at how sweet and nuanced Stipe's vocal is: the voice cracks he gets just right. I bet he spent days on that vocal alone.

Also just listened to "Strange Currencies" and was struck again by how it's "Everybody Hurts Part 2". I guess it's the chord progression, the Pachelbel's Canon thing that's they've both got going on.

Euler, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:08 (nine years ago) Permalink

The contest in question, not that it matters, was later... maybe in 97 or 98, if they were touring then? I might just be mixing things up.

I remember "Bang and Blame" being on the radio, I taped most of it. Thinking about 99x and REM's life on rock radio, I went and looked this stuff up on wiki...Didn't realize this:

"Bang and Blame" is a song by the United States alternative rock group R.E.M. It was released as the second single from the album Monster in 1994. It is the last R.E.M. song to reach the top 40 in Billboard's Hot 100 chart to date, peaking at number 19, and also their last number one on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Australian ARIA Singles Chart 29
Canadian Hot 100 1
Irish Singles Chart 14
UK Singles Chart 15
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 19
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 3

Further digging for those who care about this stuff - lokoing just at the Modern Rock chart -

1 Kenneth
1 Bang & Blame
8 Strange Currencies
20 Crush With Eyeliner
-- Tongue non-US
2 E-Bow (!!! - really?)
7 Bittersweet Me
-- Electrolite didn't chart (96 on the Hot 100 though)
-- How The West Was One - non-US
18 Daysleeper
31 Lotus
-- At My Most Beautiful
-- Suspicion
33 The Great Beyond
22 Imitation Of Life
-- (eight other Reveal and Around the Sun singles go here, also Bad Day)
21 Supernatural Superserious

All of this is just confirming things we already knew, but it's still striking for me to imagine this bizarre era when R.E.M. was a dominant force on rock radio. I wonder what became of the A&R guy who put together that $80 million deal...

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:35 (nine years ago) Permalink

All of this is just confirming things we already knew, but it's still striking for me to imagine this bizarre era when R.E.M. was a dominant force on rock radio

Really? R.E.M. were HUGE on radio; the chart positions don't reflect it.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:37 (nine years ago) Permalink

oh, and I love "King of Comedy"'s vocal distortion. What with the phased guitar and processed drums, there's distance from some of the sexiest lyrics of Stipe's careers.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:38 (nine years ago) Permalink

I still laugh at the huge deal REM got around this time. I couldn't understand how it was worth it, and still can't. REM had their moment as a huge band, but it was unsurprisingly brief: Stipe's voice is a real turnoff for a lot of people.

Euler, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:57 (nine years ago) Permalink

Bono's also better at playing a rock star -- ironic, moronic, or otherwise -- than Stipe.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Monday, 1 December 2008 22:59 (nine years ago) Permalink

Bono is indeed really good at moronic, that much I agree with.

With "ironic" (let alone "otherwise"), however, he's hardly good at all.

t**t, Monday, 1 December 2008 23:04 (nine years ago) Permalink

BTW, I think I've decided that the final poll of polls from all this will be a CLASSIC STYLE ILX POLL with nominations being pulled from the top finishers in each album - suggestions/feedback? Obviously, it's still a ways away...

Doctor Casino, Tuesday, 2 December 2008 00:07 (nine years ago) Permalink

Mike Mills' b-vox in "Circus Envy" make the song. Mike Mills' b-vox make a lot of R.E.M. songs.

Hideous Lump, Tuesday, 2 December 2008 04:11 (nine years ago) Permalink

Listening to Circus Envy this morning it struck me what a great little character study it is. Admiration for the cool other ("I hold my breath to what you sing") overlaps immediately into self-loathing ("I messed it, messed it up"). This is projected onto the object of admiration, now seen as being somehow manipulative, while the speaker pretends to now be over it ("I am tired of your dodgeball circus act [...] I forgot to bark on command").

But the resentment keeps leaking outwards, first onto the admir-ee's beau ("The strongman kicked sand into my breakfast cereal bowl") and then with shocking violence onto the admireer him/herself ("When I get loose I'll climb a tree and drop a load on your head").

Or, you can get the whole story in two lines:

If I were you I’d really run from me
I’d really really wish that I were you

Really nice.

Doctor Casino, Tuesday, 2 December 2008 17:57 (nine years ago) Permalink

WTFK delivers killer guitar tone and trem

Strange Currencies is beautiful

And Zooropa is fantastic, you ingrates.

Passenger 57 (rogermexico.), Wednesday, 3 December 2008 05:26 (nine years ago) Permalink

Voted "What's The Frequency Kenneth" because, in spite of the horrible production, it is actually a great song.

Geir Hongro, Wednesday, 3 December 2008 09:58 (nine years ago) Permalink

Voted for King Of Comedy. Maybe not my absolute favourite, but I love it for being pretty unique in their canon and a far better attempt at ironic electro-rock (horrible term, I know) than anything U2 could muster.
Other faves:
Circus Envy
Let Me In
I Don't Sleep I Dream

Stew, Wednesday, 3 December 2008 11:28 (nine years ago) Permalink

Kenneth, but Strange Currencies would be up there.

Matt DC, Wednesday, 3 December 2008 12:51 (nine years ago) Permalink

Bumped to compete with bootleg, indie-label Murmur poll. I'm increasingly thinking I should have voted for "Circus Envy."

Doctor Casino, Friday, 12 December 2008 05:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

you can vote for it now, since a week has passed (yeah yeah cheating etc)

Euler, Friday, 12 December 2008 15:45 (nine years ago) Permalink

Whoever mentioned this album's length should note that New Adventures is much longer, with only two more tracks.

If Timi Yuro would be still alive, most other singers could shut up, Friday, 12 December 2008 15:55 (nine years ago) Permalink can DO that? How did I miss this? I'm going to resist the temptation in any case.

Doctor Casino, Friday, 12 December 2008 16:00 (nine years ago) Permalink

vote twice, I mean, not bring up the length of New Adventures.

Doctor Casino, Friday, 12 December 2008 16:01 (nine years ago) Permalink

wtfk. this is my fav rem.

rent, Friday, 12 December 2008 16:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

i like bang and blame best, closely followed by "you"

the next grozart, Friday, 12 December 2008 16:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

I probably complained about the length of this album, and I would complain more about New Adventures' length. But I won't, because it's pretty dumb of me to complain since I can just program out or skip those songs.

Euler, Friday, 12 December 2008 16:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Sunday, 14 December 2008 00:01 (nine years ago) Permalink

I think "I Took Your Name" is the only song so far to get no explicit reference on this thread - I think it's pretty good though! Weird little revenge song. I like "I pushed the button and erased your master taaaape..."

"Bang and Blame" is sounding really great to me right now but I just can never quite love it...there's a kind of exhaustion in it which fits the lyric quite well (and makes the clearest bridge from Automatic to this record) but I feel like it also extends to the creative effort - this is one of Stipe's least interesting lyrics to me. Or maybe I just think "Bang and Blame" is a crappy title...

"Tongue" is still the best-sounding thing on here to me. A little muffled but a great track and a very different sound for them - there's that plinky piano from "Nightswimming," "Electrolite" and "At My Most Beautiful" but it's playing well off the organ, the little trembles of guitar, and Stipe's's a very pretty sound for a pretty dirty song!

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 14 December 2008 02:10 (nine years ago) Permalink

God bless Mike Mills on "Bang and Blame" though! "BANG!"

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 14 December 2008 02:11 (nine years ago) Permalink

...and man, I forgot about the pointless instrumental between "Bang and Blame" and "I Took Your Name." If anything makes the album too long, it's that.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 14 December 2008 02:13 (nine years ago) Permalink

yeah, that instrumental does kinda suck! "Bang and Blame" has such a tender vocal, and it's reminding me tonight a little of "Let It Bleed", in the bit about "rub on me", "jump on me", "let go on me": "you can come all over me". Both tunes have pretty exhausted vibes.

Euler, Sunday, 14 December 2008 02:30 (nine years ago) Permalink

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Monday, 15 December 2008 00:01 (eight years ago) Permalink

Incredibly RONG on the results, guys.

ilxor, Monday, 15 December 2008 00:17 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yeah, but thanks for participating, everybody! I'm just always glad to see oddball album tracks performing so high. Next poll up shortly.

Doctor Casino, Monday, 15 December 2008 00:19 (eight years ago) Permalink

pretty close to right, i think

J0rban Sarggest (some dude), Monday, 15 December 2008 00:20 (eight years ago) Permalink

"Star 69" got no votes and it's the shortest song!

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Monday, 15 December 2008 00:22 (eight years ago) Permalink

Deeply enhanced by the misreading on "Kiss This Guy" way back in the day: "I know RuPaul, I know RuPaul..."

Doctor Casino, Monday, 15 December 2008 00:25 (eight years ago) Permalink

Correct order, best to worst:

Let Me In
I Don't Sleep, I Dream
What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
Circus Envy
King of Comedy
Strange Currencies
Crush With Eyeliner
Bang and Blame
Star 69
I Took Your Name

ilxor, Monday, 15 December 2008 01:05 (eight years ago) Permalink

i disagree but i also just remembered that i do kinda love "I Don't Sleep" and sort of wish i voted for it instead of "Strange Currencies"

J0rban Sarggest (some dude), Monday, 15 December 2008 01:09 (eight years ago) Permalink

Top 2 are right, to my surprise. But I should have voted for the unjustly neglected "Star 69" instead of wasting my vote on Kenneth.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Monday, 15 December 2008 01:44 (eight years ago) Permalink

i never thought i'd give this another listen..

used to love "let me in" but the guitar sounds really bad now to my ears.

i still like "what's the frequency," "i don't sleep," and "circus envy," i can leave the rest though...

Matt P, Monday, 15 December 2008 02:09 (eight years ago) Permalink

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