When digging through old boxes in the garage the other weekend I happened across this CD (remember CDs?), which was probably a large part of why guitars are part of my life today: R.E.M.’s Monster, which will be a quarter century old later this year.
I don’t recall how I got this, whether it was a present or I frivolously spent part of my first year student grant on it (remember student grants?). I do recall the albums either side of it: Automatic For The People was the first CD I ever owned, and was a present from my parents along with my first CD player; New Adventures in Hi-Fi I bought at midnight on the day it was released. That I did the insane buying thing with the album the followed Monster tells you all you need to know about how much Monster impressed me at the time.
Monster game out just at the right time: my Dad had just got an entry level electric guitar and amp, and here was this rocking album that sounded like nothing R.E.M. had done before that was just chock full of loud and simple to play tunes. Peter Buck really stripped back the guitars on this record, and suddenly I had an album where I could play along for the most part. Thankfully as someone with a terrible ear, I also had access to the Internet for the first time at this period, and found Chris Bray’s then new R.E.M. Guitar Archive, which had chords and tabs for everything. Armed with all these pieces aligning, I found myself able to play along to an album that I loved and feel like I could play guitar. I was terrible, but it was enough to give me that sensation of being able to rock out that is an integral part of playing electric guitar. Still to this day I can remember the chords of What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? or the arpeggios of Strange Currencies by muscle memory.
It’s also a thing of friendship: I wasn’t alone in picking up the guitar at this period or being inspired to play by the works of R.E.M., and two good friends went through a similar journey, and despite being better players tolerated my attempts to play along with them (a hat tip to Dave and Andy if they’re reading this). R.E.M.’s Monster tour was also the first stadium rock event I went to, which again brings back memories of the friends I went with.
Whilst I suspect this album is, for me, second to New Adventures in Hi-Fi in terms of what my favourite album to listen to, Monster will always hold a special place in heart as it was the first album I could mostly play, sorta. And it’s always been there, even if sometimes I forget about the album directly: the 7” single of Strange Currencies came with a monster pin badge, which went on my amp of the time, and has moved to every successive amp I’ve used: a little discreet reminder of where I came from.