15. R.E.M., 'Monster'
Guitarist Peter Buck called Monster a "rock record with 'rock' in quotation marks." R.E.M. turned up the guitars for the first time since 1987's Document and came up with a searing album about the wages of celebrity — from the media-study "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" to the noise-drenched "Let Me In," an elegy for the recently departed Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix. At the height of an alternative moment that would've been unthinkable without them, R.E.M. came up with a critique of star culture from the inside that didn't get bogged down in self-indulgence or feel like old-timer moralizing. The following year drummer Bill Berry would suffer a brain aneurysm, forcing him to eventually retire from music, removing the driving force behind their sound. They wouldn't even try to rock like this again for years. Jon Dolan