Unlike a lot of R.E.M. fans, I really like this album. It was the first album of theirs to be released after I started listening to music (I had started listening to music obsessively whilst Automatic For The People was oute, but I was too concerned with other bands to pay any notice to R.E.M. or to that album at the time).
A lot of people don’t like this album because it doesn’t sound like R.E.M. The guitars are more distorted than usual, and it comes across as more of a rock album than an alternative album. So what? That sounds perfect!
This was released a year (almost to the day) after Nirvana’s In Utero, which may go some way to explain the direction that band were taking. Even though the two bands are very different, they were both flagbearers for early-‘90s alternative rock, and you would be naive to think they weren’t keeping tabs on each other’s output (Monster even includes a song in tribute to the recently departed Cobain – Let Me In). R.E.M.’s producer Scott Litt had even been hired to fiddle with the sound of In Utero and to remix a couple of the album’s tracks before it was released, so perhaps a large part of the influence was channelled through him.
I have a very clear memory of discussing this album with my good friend Dominic Beresford a couple of years after it came out, when I was at University. The amusing question raised by the album’s opening track, What’s The Frequency, Kenneth, was how Peter Buck was expected the play the backwards guitar solo on the song when they were playing live. The idea of him travelling though time backwards via an onstage teleporter sounded lavish, implausible…but funny all the same.
I did see R.E.M. play live at Glastonbury a few years later – they did play the song, but my memory is sketchy as to what he did across those bars of the song. I did find the answer eventually – at a Simon & Garfunkel show a few years ago, the guitarist played a backwards guitar solo in the break of Hazy Shade Of Winter – without the aid of any Cronenberg-esque teleportation devices. Evidently there is a guitar pedal that replicates a backwards guitar solo. I don’t think Buck would have had that pedal at the time (it would have been reversed on tape in the traditional way), but the album does reek of a certain pedal – half the tracks are drenched in tremolo.
Another odd memory I have of this album is my roommate at University refusing to believe that the band released Bang And Blame as a single off this album. In the world of Google, this sounds like an odd thing to have an arguement about. These days, it’s too easy just to look on Wikipedia and confirm, but back then it was his word against mine. I knew it had been released as a single as I’d seen the music video, but he refused to believe it, I think because he was a huge R.E.M. fan, and this knowledge had somehow passed him by. Wikipedia – thankyou! – confirms it was the second single to be taken from the album.
I like most of this album but the one song I really love, Crush With Eyeliner, became a firm favourite of mine when I used to DJ at Oldham’s 38 Bar / The Castle.
Hit: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
Hidden Gem: Crush With Eyeliner