366 Songs 364: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

I still remember my excitement upon hearing this song for the first time; it was the first release for R.E.M. since the ridiculously successful, melancholy Automatic For The People, an album that had happily stoked by obsessive collector nature and found me buying up every R.E.M. release I could find, and a song I had genuinely been waiting months to hear. Thankfully, unlike most of the rest of Monster, the album it comes from, “What’s The Frequency” is a good song, or at least, a catchy and interesting pop song (It’s maybe a little too slight to be objectively good; there’s little surprise to it, and little content past the riffs and backwards-guitar solo); I rewound and rewound my taped-off-the-radio version of it, listening to it exhaustively, confused and exhilarated by the transformation from melancholy tunesmiths to wannabe rockers that the song represented, but was as equally turned on by the chance to hear rock that wasn’t beholden to the sincere and angry grunge noise as I was used to at the time as I was let down by the lack of nuance of the stuff I’d become more familiar with at the time.

In many ways, this song was the beginning of the end of my love affair with R.E.M., which was also my first big love affair with any band; it was a song that was “good enough,” but even just admitting that to myself was to admit disappointment and defeat, and allow myself to accept that, maybe, my heroes weren’t as infallible as I wanted them to be.

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