I was late to the REM party. Seemed to have skipped pass their big releases in the early 90s – both Out of Time and Automatic For The People fell below the radar as I was pretty much getting into the grunge scene at the time. Nirvana may have opened new doors for me to find really great American bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Screaming Trees, etc but not REM.
REM did actually come up even a bit earlier than that. I remember speaking to some of the guys in my training course after I left school in 1987. I was on two year course and it may have been in 1989 that I first heard of REM. We were discussing music and I said I was a big U2 fan but the other guys were like REM are better. I had never heard of them. They had just released Green but I never made an effort to check it out.
Some of my friends however were into them. I remember hearing Shiny Happy People for the first time and it annoyed the hell out of me. Radio and indeed MTV played the song to death. Good way to put you off listening to a band.
But it was a trip to America in October 1994 that I finally got into them. I was travelling via Dublin airport and there was a delay in my flight which meant an overnight stay in a hotel. I was flicking channels for something to watch and think it was MTV I picked up on. They played What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? and immediately I really liked the song.
It sounded so different to previous REM songs that I heard but there was something about this song that I liked that I wanted to try the album. The album in question turned out to be Monster which had just been released in September.
Monster turned out to be the first CD I actually bought whilst in America. Bought a load of other CDs while I was out there too. Could have easily filled the suitcase!
When I got back home I played the album to death. Easily my favourite REM album although I have to say one of their most underrated albums. I can see why people don’t like it after listening to Out of Time and Automatic For The People. It feels more like a rock album. Not quite grunge, not quite metal, just a band rocking out.
Where do you start with the songs? There are some great songs on this album, the lead single What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?, Strange Currencies, Crush With Eyeliner, Let Me In, Star 69, Band and Blame, I Don’t Sleep are all great tracks. Those songs were my favourites but the whole album is great from start to finish.
In 1995, REM came to Slane Castle, County Meath as the Monster tour rolled into Europe. This was my first live experience of seeing the band. I don’t think they toured Out of Time and Automatic For The People so was their first tour since 1989. But not without its problems as some band members suffered ill health on the tour. A few dates were cancelled but Slane went ahead.
Not only were they touring Monster but whilst on the road had recorded New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which after Monster is my second favourite album.
They brought with them such a diverse bill for support – Oasis, Belly, Spearhead, Luka Bloom and Sharon Shannon all provided the music. Only Oasis had the potential to upstage them but thankfully they didn’t! The crowd kind of took to Oasis if they were the actual headliners. Somebody threw a plastic bottle at Liam Gallagher and he nearly walked off stage.
Thankfully it all calmed down by the time REM came onstage. Opening up with What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? the tone of the gig was firmly set in playing the new material from Monster, we got two tracks from New Adventures in Hi-Fi – Undertow and Departure as all as the big hits from Automatic For The People and Out Of Time.
One good thing about this gig was that it finally gave me an appreciation for those two albums now after hearing the songs live. Country Feedback being my favourite from Out Of Time.
Of course they played some of their older songs as well Finest Worksong, Pop Song 89, So. Central Rain and closing with It’s The End of The World As We Know It. This was just the perfect gig and of all the gigs I have been too nothing has quite topped this show!
Now 25 years on, the most underrated REM album is getting the 25th anniversary reissue. The six-disc reissue will be released on 1st of November and includes a new mix of the album by its original producer Scott Litt. The new mix showcases Michael Stipe’s vocals more prominently.
A statement from the band read, “The original 1994 version was dense in guitars and feedback with the vocals mixed within the sonic wall but on this alternative version the guitars are pulled back and the vocals pushed forward to create a more open sound and showcase often-revealing lyrics.”
Also included in the massive reissue are 15 previously unreleased demos, a 25-song concert recording from the 1995 Monster tour, a Blu-Ray consisting of the mid-90s concert film Road Movie, Monster’s music videos, liner notes with new band interviews, and more. A two-LP vinyl edition will also be available featuring the original mix and Litt’s 2019 remix.
The reissue can be pre-ordered here. This is one reissue that I am definitely looking forward to!