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An overly wordy, nerdy appreciation of REM (1983-1996)

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ATL | 16:27 UK time, Thursday, 22 September 2011

REM performing on Michael Parkinson chat show


It was very easy to listen to nothing else but REM for six months, as I did back in 1995 - they're just that type of band. I justified reading stupidly long books about Michael Stipes' art and politics - they're just that type of band. I was learning guitar and found that playing only REM songs offered everything I needed to pick up the basics - they're just that type of band. I'd play certain REM tracks to my dad, to my mum, to that weirdo art student who only seemed to listen to random noises and howls - they'd all dig what they heard. They're just that type of band. I'd lose my mind leading up to their gig at Slane Castle. They're just….well, you get the idea.

Granted, it's been a while since REM gave us a stone cold classic (album or single) and, for a lot of people, they essentially finished up the moment Bill Berry, responsible for some of the their finest moments, left the band in 1997. But no act, other than The Beatles, has a finer, more varied back catalogue.

REM, Reckoning


Their debut is remarkable. It still sounds like nothing else - I can only imagine how it blew minds back in 1983. Reckoning, Fables and Lifes Rich Pageant all followed within three years - wonderfully messy treasure troves, every song bursting to stand out, a total democracy. The confusion, the constantly shifting colour - it made sure these records will never grow old.

Then came Document. We'd have resented the band finally finding a little focus, if they hadn't nailed it quite so hard. A cocky, occasionally aggressive collection, Document thumped not just REM fans, but most of the world, as 'The One I Love' and 'The End of the World As We Know It' became household songs.

They'd move to a major label yet release their most obtuse album yet. Green may have been politically charged, but it was full of ludicrous pop hooks. It has songs to make you dance, to make you shout, to make you cry. Out of Time followed shortly after, a collection of approachable chart-botherers, songs so drenched in honey even the band themselves would almost instantly sicken of one in particular. That said, it's a fun place to re-visit.

Automatic for the People


'Automatic for the People' had six top selling singles (one less than 'Thriller') yet remains one of the darkest, occasionally upsetting albums ever written. Monster was a big, dopey, loveable rock album while New Adventures in High Fi is...well, possibly my favourite thing they've ever done.

Not to take away from some decent turns REM offered us post-Berry. With a couple of exceptions, those last five albums still stood out among 'competition' at the time. But Murmer-New Adventures is, for me, as good a run of albums as any band has created and likely ever will.

What a treat it's been writing this blog, listening to tunes and rediscovering lost gems - something REM fans do every single time they take even the briefest dive into those albums. I fought with myself over which tracks to link to, eventually just picking a few pretty much at random less I fry my own brain. It's impossible to make a list of their finest songs, to sum up what REM are about with a mere selection. They were just that type of band.



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