Monster is best described as a reaction to the trends of alt-rock that seemed to go by R.E.M. as they danced with the furry happy monsters (granted, these be monsters of a different type) by day and brooded about death and loss at night, oblivious to the fact that the electric guitar was back (and with a vengeance, as the old cliche likes to go). If your recollection of R.E.M. are a merry batch of Southerners drinking gin (or whatever they drink in good ol' Georgia) and picking mandolins and hitting organ keys as the crickets fade into the waves of evening humidity - if your recollections of R.E.M.'s compositions are of melodic ones - you're best thinking again before spinning Monster. As if inspired by the dime-a-dozen shoegazers of the early Nineties, tracks like opener "What's the Frequency, Kenneth" live off of low-end, effects-laden guitar textures. "Crush With Eyeliner" and "I Took Your Name" are the record's twin brothers, so to speak; both based off of the eighth-note rhythm of a guitar tremolo, focusing purely on rhythm and texture. Even the ballads, such as "You" and "Let Me In" exist only behind a wash of noise and feedback.
I guess that in an alt-rock world dominated by a revitalized Neil Young and his so-called "grunge" disciples - Dinosaur Jr., Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, to name a few - it just wasn't to R.E.M.'s commercial advantage to keep strumming the mandolin and picking the acoustic guitar. As the "biggest band in the world" in those innocent times, certainly they didn't want to look like they weren't up with the trends. But forget following trends for a second. The result is perhaps R.E.M.'s most underrated record and one of my favorite R.E.M. records.