For the 25th anniversary reissue of their ninth album, Monster, R.E.M. took the unusual—but not entirely unprecedented—step of commissioning new mixes of every song by original producer Scott Litt. Monster may be the most divisive album of the band’s massive catalog: It’s both opaque and glammy, a clear reaction to the more down-to-earth quietude of its hugely successful predecessors, 1991’s Out of Time and 1992’s Automatic for the People. Though the guitars were much louder on Monster, it also tended to bury the vocals within them, rendering Michael Stipe’s voice a part of the sonic landscape in a way that it hadn’t been since the band’s mysterious early days.
VICE has an exclusive first listen to Litt’s new remix of Monster’s most jarring, emotional song, "Let Me In," as well as a conversation with R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills about the track. A remembrance of the band’s friend Kurt Cobain, it was written shortly after the Nirvana singer’s suicide. Cobain’s death hit the band particularly hard, as Stipe had plans to record with Cobain, and to try and help lift him from a dark place.
The original "Let Me In" is harrowing, expressing confusion through its murky mingling of Mills’ guitar and Stipe’s voice. This new mix brings the song out of the darkness by separating the guitar and vocals, bringing the latter up much higher in the mix. A dramatic synth line has been excised completely, too, which unearths a wordless falsetto intonation that had been far below the surface in the original. This new "Let Me In" feels like a reaction to a wound that’s not so fresh: It’s stronger and more prepared to reckon with bad news. Mills spoke with VICE about this particular track, as well as his thoughts on the Monster remix.
VICE: What do you remember about the creation of "Let Me In?"
Mike Mills: I remember writing it, and I wasn’t thinking about Kurt specifically, but I was in kind of an angrily melancholic mood. We were all pretty devastated by what had happened, so when Michael heard it, he thought that it would be a suitable setting for him to get some of his feelings out about Kurt. We were trying to make a record and deal with the shock of everything. I was really proud of Michael for being brave enough to say something about the impact it had on him. I was honored that I had written something that would make him want to use it as the vehicle for his feelings, if that makes any sense. It was always super emotional to play it live, because we would gather around each other and do it as a small, intimate group, and it was always really moving.
And you ended up actually playing one of Cobain’s guitars on the recording, right?
Yeah. By the time we got in the studio to do it, Courtney [Love] had given Peter [Buck] one of Kurt’s guitars. And we thought it would make a lot of sense to play it for him. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional time. I felt kind of grateful that I was able to play his guitar while recording the song.
This remix packs a new emotional punch for me. Did it make you hear it in a new way?
It was such an emotional and powerful song anyway that the feeling was already established for me when it came out. Scott taking the organ off certainly changed a lot of the impact of the song; it made it starker in a way. But it didn’t really change my feelings about it. He did things I wouldn’t have done, but that’s fine. Scott wanted to present his vision. He was such a major part of our music for so many years that I thought it was only fair and actually kind of interesting to see it through Scott’s eyes.
So the impetus for remixing the whole album was Scott’s desire to do it more than the band’s?
He had been wanting to do it for some time, apparently, which I was unaware of. He came to us close to the reissue and asked if he could do a few remixes and see what we thought. We didn’t mind him reimagining the record because he had such a great deal to do with it in the first place. It’s not going to change what the record was when we put it out. That will always exist.