Nineteen Ninety Five was one of the most pivotal years in R.E.M.'s career. Almost all of it was spent on a massive worldwide tour, their first in four years, supporting their ninth LP Monster, a record fueled by loud, distorted guitars doused in tremolo and commentaries on Hollywood culture, excess, and sexuality. Monster was very much the band's "rock star" record, which resulted in the band's most "rock star" tour to date, with support from Radiohead and Sonic Youth. It was also the most stressful, and plagued by problems large and small to the point some called the tour "cursed." The band's new, glammy image didn't sit well with some longtime fans, and the immense pressures of such a massive tour took a serious toll on the band's health; during the tour, vocalist Michael Stipe underwent surgery to repair a hernia, bassist Mike Mills also underwent surgery to remove an abdominal adhesion, and most famously, drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm onstage in Switzerland, causing him to drop out of the tour (he recovered and was back on tour six weeks later).
Despite the tumult, the band found a new creative energy on the road. The band brought along several eight-track recorders to capture rough performances of in-progress songs during soundchecks, resulting in a more spontaneous, natural recording process than the studio. While the new songs reflected the band's then-ongoing infatuation with distortion and loud riffs, they didn't resemble the shorter punchy pop of Monster, instead embracing a less-constrained energy and longer, more ambitious song structures. Happy with the results, the band headed to Seattle following the tour's conclusion to put finishing touches on the tracks, as well as record some new songs.