Song of the Day #5,037: ‘Strange Currencies’ – R.E.M.

Continuing my look at 1994, first by counting down my own top ten albums of that year.

#4 – Monster – R.E.M.

Comparing R.E.M.’s 80s output vs. their 90s output makes for an interesting showdown. While their early albums embody the jangly pop rock sound that helped revolutionize the alternative rock landscape, the later work took that sound to darker and stranger places, resulting in some of the band’s most memorable songs.

In the 80s, R.E.M. found success on college radio, while in the 90s the band became global hitmakers, releasing their four highest-charting albums.

My personal top eight R.E.M. albums is split down the middle, with four titles from each decade.

A title that does not show up in that top eight is 1994’s Monster, and yet I like this album enough to place it fourth on my list of releases from that year.

Monster came in the middle of that run of great 90s albums, following Out of Time and Automatic for the People and preceding New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

It’s the odd man out in that collection of baroque, moody pop albums — a loud, brash, grungy record that finds R.E.M. rocking out in a way they seldom did in the studio (their live shows were another matter).

But Monster is more than just the “loud” R.E.M. album. It features some great songs that stand apart from the rest of the band’s catalog sonically while still feeling like quintessential R.E.M. songs. Among the highlights are first single ‘What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,’ ‘Crush With Eyeliner,’ ‘Tongue,’ ‘Let Me In,’ and today’s SOTD, ‘Strange Currencies.’

[Verse 1]
I don’t know why you’re mean to me
When I call on the telephone
And I don’t know what you mean to me
But I want to turn you on, turn you up, figure you out
I wanna take you on

These words, “You will be mine”
These words, “You will be mine”, all the time

[Verse 2]
The fool might be my middle name
But I’d be foolish not to say
I’m going to make whatever it takes
Bring you up, call you down, sign your name, secret love
Make it rhyme, take you in, and make you mine

These words, “You will be mine”
These words, “You will be mine,” all the time, oh
I tripped and fell, did I fall
What I want to feel, I want to feel it now

[Verse 3]
And now with love come strange currencies
And here is my appeal
I need a chance, a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance
A word, a signal, a nod, a little breath
Just to fool myself, to catch myself, to make it real, real

These words, “You will be mine”
These words, “You will be mine,” all the time, oh

These words, “You will be mine”
These words, they haunt me, hunt me down, catch in my throat, make me pray
Say, love’s confined, oh

Song of the Day #4,615: ‘King of Comedy’ – R.E.M.

My lord, has it really been 27 years since R.E.M. released Monster? I remember being taken aback by the volume and aggression of this album coming on the heels of 1992’s Automatic For the People, but mostly loving the results.

R.E.M. said they wanted to make a loud album after the mostly acoustic Out of Time and Automatic For the People, and Monster certainly fit the bill. Soaked in reverb, this mashup of glam rock and grunge sounds like nothing else in the band’s catalog, for better and worse.

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Song of the Day #2,841: ‘Star 69’ – R.E.M.

monsterR.E.M.’s Monster was a true WTF album. Following the mega-success of the warm, elegant pop albums Out of Time (1991) and Automatic For the People (1992), this 1994 release hit fans like a bucket of cold water.

Steeped in grunge and drowning in reverb and feedback, Monster was the loudest and least pretty collection R.E.M. ever recorded. But listening to it 22 years later, it doesn’t seem all that scary.

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Song of the Day #684: ‘I Don’t Sleep, I Dream’ – R.E.M.

Automatic For the People was one of the hardest of hard acts to follow, so when R.E.M. released Monster two years later, in 1994, they went in a completely different direction.

Here was the “hard” album they’d been talking about recording for years, and then some. The acoustic flavors of Out of Time and Automatic For the People were replaced by distorted, grungy guitars and processed vocals.

Because of the marked contrast from its classic predecessor, it’s tempting to look at Monster as a let-down for the band — in fact, I was prepared to describe it as one of their more underrated albums — but the truth is it was a big hit commercially and received very good reviews.

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Song of the Day #203: ‘Crush with Eyeliner’ – R.E.M.

monsterR.E.M. followed Automatic for the People with the grunge and feedback overload of Monster, the most love-it-or-hate-it album in their catalog.

I fall into the “love” category, though I do lose patience for a couple of songs toward the end of the album. But the first ten songs are twisted and glorious, none more so than ‘Crush With Eyeliner.’

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