Picks and Pans Review: Monster

updated 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

R.E.M.

R.E.M. was unplugged before unplugged was cool. But now that so many of the band's alternative-rock peers are jumping on the trend—Alice In Chains' early-'92 Jar of Flies EP and Nirvana's Unplugged in New York is due in November—the acclaimed foursome have gone electric.

Monster, R.E.M.'s ninth studio album, is its most amped release yet. Cuts like "Crush with Eyeliner," "King of Comedy" and "I Took Your Name" sport a rough, industrial sound. Front man Michael Stipe's compressed vocals seem to have been recorded from Walkman headphones as his bandmates indulge in a punk ethic missing from recent R.E.M. albums. Stipe sounds assured and sexy on "I Don't Sleep, I Dream," especially when he slips into falsetto on the chorus, and his undecipherable vocals on the frenetic rocker "Star 69" recall R.E.M.'s early days.

Lest the fainthearted tune out, though, Monster also includes a few quieter moments: "Strange Currencies" is familiar power pop, and the gospel-tinged "Tongue" soars on a lovely organ melody. Ultimately the overall sound of Monster is more striking than any of its individual songs. Still, R.E.M. deserves applause for recording bold music and not just coasting on its rep. (Warner Bros.)

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