I was very sad to hear that REM was splitting up. REM has been one of my favourite bands for many, many years. Every playlist I have has REM songs on it. There have been REM albums that have defined substantial periods of my life.
The first song I can remember hearing by REM was “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).” When “Out of Time” came out in 1991 it became the theme music of my undergrad. I loved the whole album. “Shiny Happy People” and “Me in Honey” are still in regular rotation on my iPod. I can remember reading the REM fans could be divided into 2 groups those who liked material before “Out of Time” and those who became fans after. I definitely fall into the second group.
Very quickly, REM followed up with “Automatic for People.” I do not have words to describe the effect this album had on my life. So many songs from it spoke to me at different times. My absolute favourite was “Ignoreland.” Having lived through the Reagan years, REM’s lyrics captured the frustration of a generation. “Nightswimming” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I have no idea how many times I listened to this song – I am sure it must be over a thousand.
The next album, “Monster” was not my favourite. However, I did have some favourites. The stand out for me was “What’s the frequency Kenneth.” Somehow I missed “New Adventures in Hi-fi.” I think I was busy having my post Masters degree melt down when I realized I was not going to be able to find a decent job. I digress.
I absolutely adored “Up.” If I remember correctly, it was billed as a concept album, best listened to from the beginning straight through. I loved almost the entire album. “At my most beautiful and “Falls to climb” are the standout tracks for me on “Up.” In “Falls to climb,” Stipe’s vocals are outstanding. He holds a note for so long it almost seems impossible. Yet there it is.
I mostly didn’t engage with 2001’s “Reveal.” “Around the Sun,” which came out in 2004, was another great album. REM’s ability to capture complex political systems and ideas was evident again on this album. In particular, “I wanted to be wrong,” which astutely captured the state of American foreign policy was almost as powerful for the Bush Jr. years as “Ignoreland” was on the Reagan years. “Accelerate” is another album I didn’t really like. One song, “Hollow Man” was the only one I really liked. I found the album too heavy.
Clearly no band or artist can continue to churn new, creative material year after year. Many bands fade into obscurity after only a few a mediocre albums. REM’s brilliance has spanned over 4 decades. I think this speaks to the creative genius of REM. I think I will spend some time in their back catalogue where I am sure I will find some more gems.
What about you? How has REM affected your life? What are your favourites? Leave your recommendations in the comments!