Monster is the ninth album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released in September 1994 on Warner Bros. Records. Co-produced with Scott Litt, Monster was an intentional stylistic shift from the group's preceeding albums, Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), consisting of loud, distorted guitar tones and simple song arrangements. Singer Michael Stipe's lyrics dealt with the nature of celebrity, which he sang while assuming various characters. Lead by the single "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", Monster debuted at number one in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The band promoted the record with its first concert tour since 1989.
Later that year R.E.M. began recording its ninth album. Preproduction took place at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans under the supervision of Mark Howard, who had previously worked on Automatic for the People. The band wrote 45 songs for the record, including "a whole album's worth of acoustic stuff" that the band demoed, according to guitarist Peter Buck. Howard recalled that the sessions were more experimental for the band; he said, "The bass had a tremolo sound on it. It was a more inventive session for them." The studio did not have a control room, so Howard recorded Michael Stipe singing lyrical ideas while lying on a couch. Howard said, "Being able to put those vocals down helped him write the lyrics to a lot of songs on Monster." Once the sessions were complete, Howard played the recordings to co-producer Scott Litt, who had worked with the band since its fifth album Document (1987).
In February 1994 the band moved to Crossover Soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia. At Crossover, most of the album's basic track were recorded live, as if the band were playing in concert. Litt said, "I thought since they hadn't toured in a while, it would be good for them to get into that mind-set--you know, monitors, PA, standing up". The sessions were hampered by a number of events, including Berry and bassist Mike Mills falling ill on separate occasions, Buck and Stipe leaving to visit family members, and the deaths of River Phoenix and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, whom Stipe had befriended. The band wrote and recorded the song "Let Me In" in tribute to Cobain, and dedicated the album to Phoenix.
In late April 1994, the band relocated to Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida, but recording was disrupted because Stipe suffered from a tooth abcess that required medical attention. Unlike previous album sessions, by the time work had moved to Ocean Way Recording in Los Angeles, California, the band was behind schedule. Litt attributed the delay to recording live at Crossover, which lengthened the mixing process; he told Rolling Stone, "We're trying to figure out how raw to leave it and how much to studiofy it." At the same time, Stipe was still writing when the band was supposed to be mixing the record. Tension arose between the band members, who were staying in different locations in Los Angeles and would rarely be in the studio at the same time. Tensions came to a head when the group was recording at Louie's Clubhouse, Litt's home studio in Los Angeles, where years later Stipe recalled, "We broke up . . . We reached the point where none of us could speak to each other, and we were in a small room, and we just said 'Fuck off' and that was it. The group had a meeting to resolve its issues; Mills told Rolling Stone, "We have to begin working as a unit again, which we haven't been doing very well lately."
Stipe wrote the lyrics of Monster in character. This, according to biographer Dan Buckley, "set the real Stipe at a distance from the mask adopted for each song." The album dealt with the nature of celebrity and "the creepiness of fandom as pathology". Buck said the album was a reaction to the band's popularity. He added, "When I read the lyrics I thought, all these guys are totally fucked up. I don't know who they are, because they're not Michael. I would say that this was the only time where he's done characters that are creepy, and I don't know if anyone got that. He was getting out his things by acting out these parts that are not him. The band noted that at the end of certain songs, they left blank choruses where Mills and Berry would traditionally sing harmonies so fans could sing along.
Rolling Stone gave Monster four and a half stars. Critic Robert Palmer noted that Stipe's lyrics dealt with issues of identity ("The concept of reality itself is being called into question: Is this my life or an incredible virtual simulation?") and that occasionally the singer "begins to sound not unlike the proverbial rock star, whining about all those fans who just won't let him alone." He added, "What's truly impressive about Monster is the way R.E.M. make an album with such potentially grave subject matter so much fun. NME gave the album a seven out of ten rating. Reviewer Keith Cameron wrote, "It’s fun, frequently, but we feel distanced, engaged only on a secondhand level. Moreover, the loudly trumpeted fox factor has been conspicuous by its absence." Cameron concluded, "At best stunning, at worst merely diverting, 'Monster' sounds like the album they 'had' to make, to clear out their system, a simple prop to occupy our time... Allmusic rated the album two and a half stars out of five; Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, "Monster doesn't have the conceptual unity or consistently brilliant songwriting of Automatic for the People, but it does offer a wide range of sonic textures that have never been heard on an R.E.M. album before.
In 2005, Warner Bros. issued an expanded two-disc edition of Monster which includes a CD, a DVD-Audio disc containing a 5.1-channel surround sound mix of the album done by Elliot Scheiner, and the original CD booklet with expanded liner notes.
The back cover features the body of the bear next to the track listing. The inside sleeve artwork features images of a cartoon character named 'Migraine Boy' along with other photographs and a list of names for possible outtake tracks or proposed names for the album.
|1994||UK Album Chart||1|
|1994||"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"||Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales||24|
|1994||"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||2|
|1994||"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||1|
|1994||"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"||Billboard Hot 100||21|
|1994||"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"||UK Singles Chart||9|
|1994||"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"||Billboard Top 40 Mainstream||10|
|1994||"Bang and Blame"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||3|
|1994||"Bang and Blame"||UK Singles Chart||15|
|1994||"Bang and Blame"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||1|
|1995||"Bang and Blame"||Billboard Hot 100||19|
|1995||"Bang and Blame"||Billboard Top 40 Mainstream||13|
|1995||"Crush with Eyeliner"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||20|
|1995||"Crush with Eyeliner"||UK Singles Chart||23|
|1995||"Crush with Eyeliner"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||33|
|1995||"Star 69"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||15|
|1995||"Star 69"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||8|
|1995||"Strange Currencies"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||8|
|1995||"Strange Currencies"||UK Singles Chart||9|
|1995||"Strange Currencies"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||14|
|1995||\"Strange Currencies\"||Billboard Hot 100||47|
|1995||\"Strange Currencies\"||Billboard Top 40 Mainstream||30|
|1995||\"Tongue\"||UK Singles Chart||13|
|BPI – UK||3 X Platinum|
|RIAA – U.S.||4 X Platinum|
|CRIA – Canada||6 X Platinum|