R.E.M.’s Monster came out on the day that I was moving from Greenock back to Aberdeen for the second year of my art school career; I was going to be living in a house in the middle of the countryside, and so I made a point of getting up early before I even packed up for the four hour drive between hometowns to buy the album, and spent the entire drive wishing that I could play the album in the car and hear all of those great songs that were almost definitely as good and catchy as the lead-off single “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”.
(Almost twenty years later, I still think that “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” is a great single; it’s ridiculously catchy and sounds just off enough that you can’t help but pay attention when you hear it. I remember hearing it for the first time, back when I was a massive R.E.M. fan and couldn’t quite believe that they were really doing a “rock” record again after Out of Time and Automatic For The People, and thinking “That wasn’t what I was expecting, but I definitely want to hear a lot more!”)
When I arrived and unpacked the car in Aberdeen, the first thing I did was plug in my CD player and eagerly put the new album on, excited to listen to the whole thing as I tried to make this new house into somewhere I could imagine spending the next nine months. With each successive track, I got more and more worried about the… saminess, I guess, the aural sludge that felt like it bogged down the album, the lack of focus and even more worrying, the lack of tunes. This wasn’t what I had wanted, and felt like it was a bad omen for how the year ahead and the new place were going to turn out (Spoiler: It may have been, considering). But when “Star 69” came on, I stopped what I was doing and just listened, and then hit repeat, and listened to it again, and again.
I’m not sure what it was about this song that stood out so much: The riff? The echoed vocals? The way that the song seems to almost take a breath before the guitar solo? Maybe all of that, and more, but this wasn’t like the rest of the album, and gave me an idea that, okay, maybe my musical heroes of the time had let me down, but they weren’t entirely out of ideas just yet. The myth of the musical comeback was born in me with this song, I think.