So, in 2009 I ended up getting into R.E.M., which was kind of unexpected. I always kind of liked them, but the band is so mainstream that I basically ignored them for years. I don’t have every album yet, but here’s what I do have, and what I think about them, in brief.
I finally gave in and got Out of Time. As an opener to an R.E.M. collection, that was probably a good choice. It took me a while to fully come round to it though, probably because although it is pop music, it runs deceptively deep.
It’s kind of hard to quantify what it is about R.E.M. that I like exactly, but all I know is I really like it, and the more I listen, the more I like it, the more I hear.
So next I end up getting Around the Sun and Accelerate for ultra-cheap. Cheap probably because nobody in this country cares about any R.E.M. album than the best-of collection with the moon on the cover and maybe Automatic for the People. And I discovered over the course of several months, that Accelerate is really an awesome record. Around the Sun however is not.
Next up, Automatic for the People, which probably has the highest number of songs everyone with even a passing knowledge of the band knows. Everybody Hurts is the one everyone remembers, but I think there are better songs on there, and more moving ones to boot (Try Not to Breathe for one). It’s probably true though, in terms of their 90s super-stardom, this album is probably the one that justifies it.
I then picked up Live at the Olympia for very cheap, and upon getting home realised that other than the Accelerate tracks, I maybe knew three or four of these songs. This performance, recorded during live rehearsals for Accelerate, mostly draws from their 80s catalogue. So, I knew where to go next.
So, just last week I happened to find a bunch of R.E.M. albums for cheap on Amazon. So, suddenly I went from four studio albums to eight with the addition of Fables of the Reconstruction, Document, Green and Monster. It’ll take me a while to fully absorb all of this material, by which time, their new album will be out. At this point it should be clear, this band is the most mainstream contemporary musical act that I truly enjoy listening to. They are probably the one band I have in common with the widest group of people.
I was hesitant about Collapse Into Now, because as much as I love Accelerate more than expected, their previous record is not great, and reportedly there’s a run of almost a decade of poor R.E.M. albums after Bill Berry left. So was Accelerate a fluke, or had they recaptured something? Or perhaps re-invented something? Anyway, the band are sort of self-leaking most of the album via youtube, and of the songs they’ve released so far, I must say I am pretty happy with the direction.
I think maybe producer Jacknife Lee has saved R.E.M. from becoming one of those bands stuck in time. Sure, a large portion of R.E.M. fans are only in it for their 90s hits, and a whole other bunch refuse to go past the mid 80s, but for those of us willing to follow them into the future, they’ve become a band older and wiser, stronger and more confident. Three cheers for Buck, Mills and Stipe.