From the opening chords of “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” till the last fading rhythms of “You,” R.E.M’s newest album, “Monster,” never lets up and leaves little room for improvement. The album is full of energy that literally bursts out of your stereo, and powerful performances that showcase the talent of the four members in the band, talent that has kept R.E.M. popular since the early ’80s.
The whole album is chock full of raw emotion and the lyrics are a swirl of emotions. Many of the lyrics are full of themes about obsession, greed and sorrow, and lead singer Michael Stipe’s singing lets you know just how he feels.
The two gems on “Monster” are its opening song, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Let Me In.” “Kenneth” has its roots in the mysterious mugging/beating of CBS News anchor Dan Rather in New York in 1986 (in which Rather’s assailants continually queried, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” while they pummeled him). This is one of the (dare I say it) catchiest tunes on “Monster,” maybe one of the catchiest songs out this year. The other leader on the tape, “Let Me In,” was written in honor of Kurt Cobain, who had become friends with Michael Stipe shortly before his suicide in April. This is the most emotionally charged song on the tape, and Stipe’s sorrow can be felt while he wails “Let me in …”
A few minor complaints; first off, fans of the past two albums, “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People,” shouldn’t expect to see anything similar in the style of music found on “Monster.” While the last two albums were fairly subdued, Monster rips through at a frantic pace. Secondly, “Tongue,” one of the album’s songs, is pretty annoying and out of place, and detracts from the listening pleasure. Thirdly, the lyrics get lost in the swirl of guitar, bass and percussion in a few spots on the tape, making it almost impossible to figure what Stipe is singing about, but nevertheless, the group still manages to convey their messages.
These minor quibbles shouldn’t keep anyone from buying “Monster.” All in all, it’s an excellent album and the only regret I have about buying it was that I didn’t buy the CD. .