Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.M. R.I.P.

I'm not that upset.

I came to the party late. It was "Life's Rich Pageant" that made the lasting impression, and not the groundbreaking, 1-2 slap of "Murmur" and "Reckoning," two critically acclaimed records that left me colder than a Tribeca waitress. What followed were more songs that offered style over substance.

"Document' was a weak follow-up.  "Green" bored me, as did the "Green" tour which featured a raccoon-eyed Michael Stipe in an oversized sports coat just pissing me off with his arm swings and pretentious un-rock and roll demeanor.  (Or maybe it was more rock and roll than I'd like to admit. I still don't like "Green.")

And while Peter Buck remains one of the nicest people I have ever met, he and Mike Mills just didn't do it for me on stage. As a matter of fact, if I read one more review that cites Mike Mills' harmonies as anything but adnoidal, I may plotz. I guess that's no longer an issue.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, especially since "Out Of Time" and "Automatic For The People" sucked me right back in.  R.E.M. growed up. They growed up real good. They may have lost the core with their big time MTV status, but the music was good, and for me, that comes first. The music MUST come first.

But then came "Monster," a collection of tunes that were glorified rewrites. And thus it began...the decline. The misery.

It was a reverse crossroads. The band sold their mojo to the devil.

And who can forget the great Bill Berry, someone I like to refer to as "Mojo."

(Myth? Fun, though.)

So for the last...what...15 years...we've had to endure the pressure of obligation. We were feeling the need to love this band because Patti Smith loves them...and we love her. But in reality, the music didn't feel like it was coming first. It was lifeless. And "important." Grown up in all the wrong places. R.E.M. threatened us, but we weren't fooled. "This is the one." NO, it wasn't. "THIS is the one." Uh... nope. Once the music hit, we were back on low alert.

It's the end of the....blah blah blah.

It's time.

You guys did enough.


Eric said...

I came early to the party..83' beacon show with steve and syndicate party as opening act... i left the part early once i my heard my calling in Seattle 20 years ago... but buck's connection with the mats' on i will follow always made me like him(and i always like a millionaire who gets thrown off an airplane for being drunk like he did awhile ago-uh, "waitress in the sky " anyone)...

and then stipe came out of the closet.. which triggered a violent shouting match with judas priest fans on the A train @34th st...

28 years is a long time for original music, though it became musak to me after awhile..

i go off topic, sal... thank u for allowing my ramble.

TimfromGR said...

The "Chronic Town" EP was my first exposure to REM and these many years later, it's still my favorite.

Jeff Matthews said...

I don't agree with you about Green, Sal. But then again I was living in Switzerland when it came out and remember feeling totally starved for new American music rather than the endless Eurocrap that was available - my judgement was probably clouded. I missed that tour so didn't share that dysphoric concert experience (sounds awful). They were never great live and I don't think I saw them after about 1983 until the 2008 tour, which I did enjoy.
Nightswimming was the last REM song that I felt was truly great - maybe the best song in their entire catalog.

Jeff Matthews said...

I came to the party very early by the way - at the Paradise in Boston shortly after Murmur was released. - back in the days when Stipe barely turned around.

Oxy said...

Bill Berry saw the end coming. His bandmates and friends became idiosyncratic and just plain weird. From four friends playing good music together for a good time, the other three began to think they were rock gods. Berry took a well-timed exit bow and was replaced by nobody! That move made Berry totally justified regarding his departure. It also marked the beginning of the end of the big three! A real pity (at times).

FD13NYC said...

No great loss, big deal I say. I was never a fan, 5-6 songs tops. Doesn't say much for a band that's been around for 28 years, at least for me anyway. They should enjoy their riches now and stop trying to clean out the same old empty box. Over and done, thank God.

FD13NYC said...

Oh and, I don't love Patti Smith either. 3-4 songs maybe. I listened over the years, but never got it, never saw it. That's just me, to each his own, right? My favorite was Pumpin' My Heart from Radio Ethiopia.

Anonymous said...

exactly how i feel about frikkin winehouse......well watch the attack!

kevin m said...

Reveal was actually a pretty good album by REM. After that, I pretty much got off the train.

buzzbabyjesus said...

It's often the point of entry isn't it? I'm a "Murmur" guy and the last one I liked was "Lifes Rich Pageant".
My first ex-wife bought "Green" and made me go see them at MSG. I endured the opening act of the Indigo Girls-I liked the first song ok, but then they played it over and over for the rest of their set overstaying their welcome. REM came on and I had the disorienting experience of hearing the entire audience doing backups for the band, which turned out to be an unflattering insight into the songwriting. They all sounded the same.
But I was happy that they'd reached a larger audience and didn't need me anymore.
I'll give "Murmur " a listen in tribute today.
That said, I don't like Patti Smith either. I could never figure out why she got such a pass.
And Amy Winehouse? I can't wait to see what kind of "product" they cobble together from whatever she left behind.
She had a modicum of talent, but threw it away in a spectacular fashion.

Alan said...

Sal: You should title the comments section of the blog "But I digress." Patti Smith? Amy Winehouse? Hey, I never loved Springsteen or mashed potatoes, and I dated someone in high school who was a real asshole, ..., and let me tell you about my uncle Murray, a real piece of work. BTW: Since nobody commented: I loved the Tribeca waitress crack. And BBTW; REM? Eh.

steve simels said...

"Murmur" is one of the most beautiful records ever made, IMHO.

As good as any American LP by any other band, and I include the holy trinity of Beach Boys/Buffalo Springfield/Byrds. An absolutely astounding level of melodic invention and creative imagination.

My two cents.

Peter Ames Carlin said...

All you guys who hated them first, who wished they all could have OD'd after that first Hib-tone outtake of "Radio Free Europe" (not the one that came out, and not the cliched first outtake where they play the whole song in the guy's bathroom with his little brother in the tub, but the one BEFORE that, where they're not even playing and the tape's not even on? I bet you never heard of it but that was fucking GENIUS, and if you don't own it (in the original imaginary sleeve that doesn't even EXIST) then just piss off right now) I'm like: Really?

They were never my college heroes. I didn't pick up on their indie stuff and ignored the first few WB albums too, figuring....well, not much.

But somehow it turned out I HAD heard all that early stuff, it drifted into my ears when I wasn't listening, and when someone played "Eponymous" I thought, I know nearly ALL of these songs and I'm psyched to hear the other ones, too, and damn, these are beautiful-sounding, intriguingly (if mysteriously voiced) worded songs. And the hits...I loved "Out of Time" and never actively disliked "Shiny Happy," b/c I love the Beach Boys too, and a hook's a hook and sometimes who gives a shit about the lyrics? I always thought it was about taking ecstasy, anyway...

I thought "Out of Time" was full of great and often beautifully weird songs. Lovely instrumentals! Great, yearning harmonies! And "Belong" and what was that #1 single? Then 18 months (if that?) goes by and boom: "Automatic"! Even BETTER songs, the insanely beautiful "Nightswimming," the truly amazing (esp before your 100,000th listen) "Man in the Moon." I'm in love -- what's that song? Oh, yes..."Try Not to Breathe" (remember the AIDS crisis?), "Sweetness Follows."

"Monster" was a disappointment by comparison (but WHAT a great single in 'What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" but I thought that tour kicked ass, and then "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" was probably 20 minutes too long, but had an LP's worth of cool-to-fantastic music on it (just check out the chords on the chorus of "Be Mine") And if the albums became less consistent after Berry's departure I made myself an album called 'Assorted' featuring my faves from the post 'Hi-Fi' albums (plus some rarities from the early '90s) , it's like an hour-plus and it's one hella-fuckin great album. " "Lotus," "Frequency...", "Wall of Death," "Imitation of Life", "The Wake-Up Bomb," "E-bow the Letter," "Ascent of Man," "Daysleeper," (beautiful song), "Electrolite" (day-ummm, just LISTEN to that) and "How the West Was Won", and more. "Tongue," "Be Mine." Nothing from "Accelerate" b/c that's just a great album, no need to cherry-pick.

I already miss R.E.M. I wanted to see them play live at least once more. I really wanted them to uncork one last stone-cold brilliant album. But I think they'd had enough. Even when they were good/great, they just had....other stuff on their minds. Greatness hurts. They did that for a long time. The good news is, they're back together with Berry again. So that vibe is back. Only not where we can be a part of it, but that's life. So do yourself a favor and find that non-existent perfect moment version of "Gardening." You'll have to snatch it from the glowing hands of the Buddha (and he just LOOKS fat, he's a tough little fucker), but it'll be worth it. It's perfect.

Sal Nunziato said...

I still don't like "Murmur."

Robin said...

I am not upset either, it was time.

I remember someone lending me Chronic Town when it came out and also Radio Free Europe was played at the clubs a lot back then, or at least where I went. I just fell in love with them from there. My favorites are Murmur, Automatic, OOT and Document, with a very special place in my heart for Reckoning due to it being such a big part of my life then. "Fall on Me" might be my favorite song of theirs, also "Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite". I do think they should have called it quits when Bill B left, though there have been some moments since then. Stipe isn't for everyone, and yes Mike and Pete aren't the most impressive stage men for sure, but I think the band as whole were and will remain very special. I can understand Murmur leaving someone cold despite its rep for sure. Automatic for me is just one of the best albums ever, like Murmur it evokes a feeling and a sense of place and time, something the Athens boys were really good at.

I love the Bill Berry as "Mojo", so true. :)

steve simels said...

Sal Nunziato said...

I still don't like "Murmur."

I'm genuinely surprised. I was floored by that album on the very first hearing and played it obsessively for weeks after.

I can't think of a more accessible record...

Noam Sane said...

They were there for me at the height of the hair-band hideousness, and I'll always appreciate that. I wore out Chronic Town, Murmur, and the next one. Picked and chose from the rest, but some really great songs here and there.

I saw them in '85 and thought they were terrible, really boring performers. But that's just, like, my opinion, man.

I saw a quote from Michael Stripe yesterday: "A wise man once said--'the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave.'"

It was time to leave about 10 years ago, but whatever. Now he'll have more time for wine and cheese soirees with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Sal Nunziato said...

What I hear when I listen to "Murmur" is a sound as a whole. It's one long vibe to me, and not a good one. Stipe sounds like he is droning his way to what may be better songs than I'm giving credit to. I just don't find it accessible.

Anything Should Happen said...

Here's my twopenneth.

First up, I'm with Steve, I love Murmur.

The IRS Years stuff still rings well with me. Out Of Time and Automatic For The People are populist but both still really decent albums, in fact Autonatic is much better than decent.

Diminishing returns since then, the last two seemed a return to form on the first few listens and then you realised that it was just that they weren't as bad as you thought they'd be.

Stipe became like a Peacock, what was the Live 8 thing etc???

Buck maybe a lovely guy but he's far more interesting talking about the music he adores than actually playing anything.

Having said that I'd love to see him in some three piece power pop outfit, but I suspect he'll turn up in a Raconteurs II or even Superheavy.

Hepworth came up with an interesting argument about how many successful bands survive after the drummer leaves.

Stipe's coming out was really a bit like Neil Tennant, quelle surprise.

Rushbo said...

For me, REM were the gatekeepers to the world of alternative music, for which I am eternally grateful. It was either dive into the Paisley Underground or count the moments until the new Winger LP...

'Murmur' is my favourite album ever. Ever. It's OK not to like it, but I don't understand why you don't. Just sayin'.

Yeah, it was time and I hope they bow out with dignity. I'll miss them being around. I won't miss the expectation followed by the dissapointment I've felt with their last few albums.

Their real legacy is the trail they blazed across the US - playing in tiny bars or even fried chicken restaurants in the middle of nowhere, inspiring people to form bands werever they went. For that, they're up there with Black Flag or Husker Du.

They were easy to hate, especially when Stipe turned into 'Mr MTV'. I hung around for the isolated moments in their latterday career when their initial brilliance would shine through.

They were ace.

And Mr Carlin... That non-existant copy of 'Gardening at night' that Buddha has is OK, but the first version they did with that Producer you've never heard of in that studio in Narnia is the MONEY version. Wanna fight about it?

bglobe313 said...

This band meant a lot to me. I had resisted the hype when Murmur came out, but then heard "Radio Free Europe" right as I was graduating from college and then constantly while driving down to Boston over the next year looking for a grad school apartment to live in with my girlfriend. Heard the "Murmur" LP while moving all of our stuff from a U-Haul into a friend's apartment to wait a week until September 1 when we could move in.

Every song they released on IRS was great, even "Underneath the Bunker," "Voice of Harold" and "Walter's BBQ."

I had no problem with them moving to Warners ideologically. In fact it was very exciting that a band that had just not been able to fully breakthrough commercially finally did.

But that was the first LP with a song I could not really remember. That continued on and on, but they were still great. For me "Monster" was a mess. I listened to it over and over on my Sony Discman while commuting to a well-paying job I hated, hoping to hear the greatness the critics said was there.

They recovered from that, had a few more good ones, then Berry left. Now we had one or two REM-level songs on each CD, a couple more that were tolerable, and a bunch that didn't cut it (not bad, generally, but not outstanding in any fashion). The last two LPs showed marked improvement, especially the last one. My view when I had heard that is that they had finally done a disc close to those of the Berry years, they should realize they could never do it again, it was 30 years since the church party, and they should have quit. Well, it took awhile but they did.

Costello, Springsteen, and REM. Plenty of others I love (Richard Thompson). But those are the three that meant and still mean the most to me.

Ace K.

P.S. The notion of fans of a band that dresses like Judas Priest freaking out over Stipe coming out of the closet is, um, ironic, right?

buzzbabyjesus said...

You don't like "Murmur",
but you like Peter Frampton?

Sal Nunziato said...

To all lovers of "Murmur,"

I don't like the sound of a Fender Rhodes keyboard. Wouldn't matter if Mozart was playing it. I don't like the way it sounds.

"Murmur" doesn't sound good to me. 4 of the opening 5 songs have that same, Bush Tetras "Too Many Creeps" meets The Slits groove. I don't like that.

I don't think it's very melodic, and when it tries to be, like on "Perfect Circle," it's just okay. It's not "Pet Sounds" or anything for that matter, that I think of when I think "What a melody!"

Someone tossed off "Underneath The Bunker," as a throwaway. I happen to LOVE that song. It seems more creative and melodic than anything on "Murmur."

Stipe just drones away. I don't like it. I don't find it accessible as Steve Simels does. LRP, OOT, AFTP are all more acccessible to my ears.

The album obviously resonated with many of you. But as I said, it was "Life's Rich Pageant" where I found my R.E.M.

Sal Nunziato said...


That's right! What does one have to do with the other? Let's leave the snobbery elsewhere. I also like Judas Priest more than Leonard Cohen.

Rushbo said...

@ Sal: 'I also like Judas Priest more than Leonard Cohen'.

...oh man, you said out loud what everyone else has been thinking.

Thank you.

Sal Nunziato said...

Don't get me started.

Rushbo said...

What would be the better album - 'Judas Priest sing Leonard Cohen' or 'Leonard Cohen sings Judas Priest'? Or maybe 'Winger sing Leonard Cohen sings Judas Priest'. ...with Peter Buck on Dulcimer.

Anything Should Happen said...

I like Judas Priest more than Leonard Cohen, but I like the Sugarbabes less than XTC.

My first is in apple but not in orange.

What Am I etc etc.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on Radiohead Sal.

Sal Nunziato said...

I like Radiohead's earlier, funnier records.

Rushbo said...

How about 'Radiohead sing REM'...oh wait a minute, isn't that Coldplay?

Anything Should Happen said...

Does dear old Leonard sing anything. Isn't it a case of chatting it through methodically.

How about Val Doonican Sings REM - The IRS Years?

Anything Should Happen said...

How about Radiohead sing Judas Priest.

Oh isn't that Muse?

Bada Bing Crosby said...

Worse than losing their you-know-what, REM lost their sense of humor, specifically when they denounced Shiny Happy People. Youtube Sesame Street's Shiny Happy Monsters. Even if you hate the song, try not to crack a smile.

A band taking itself too seriously is its death knell. The Beatles never lost their perspective and they'll last forever. REM? RIP.

Can't wait for the Mike Mills solo album though.

Peter Ames Carlin said...

Oh man, here's something: Does anyone have a digitized version of REM's fantabulous appearance on 'Mountain Stage'? This was like 1/3 of the "Out of Time" tour, and I listened to it constantly after taping it from the radio. But now...well...who listens to CASSETTES? Not me, anyway.

Can ya drop me a line if you know where I can download it? mega thanks, in advance

pattirules said...

fd u may not like patti because you never saw her live...her shows are magical and something just clicks

buzzbabyjesus said...

I bought "The Best Of Leonard Cohen" from Sal because of Fairport's "Bird On A Wire" from "Hey day".
What an effing bore. I hate Judas Priest, but like them a lot more than Leonard Cohen.
Everyone here is into music, we're just splitting hairs, which is what geeks do.
We think it's fun. Because it is.

Shriner said...

I'm one of those who thought Bill Berry must have been the heart and soul of the band as everything after he left sucked (apart from the occasional song) -- and who would have guessed that the drummer had such apparent influence (or creative control...)

While I have all the albums -- I won't miss the band.

That said, I hope Peter Buck continues on with Robyn Hitchcock. He's a great sideman and the last 3 RH albums with the Venus 3 have been some of his best.

bglobe313 said...

Rushbo, I like "Underneath the Bunker." The point was that even something that weird, and uncommercial and intentionally odd was still great. As even was their "King of the Road" cover that Buck's liner notes suggested ought to allow Roger Miller sue.

I very much agree with the point of one of the posters above that they lost their humor.

But remember, in comparison with The Beatles, the Fab Four did it all in six or seven years, these guys had to (try to) keep it going for well over twenty (31 in the end).

And, basically, you can't. I don't know if it's brain wiring, but most even very good pop musicians are good for five years. The greats get 10 years. After that for almost all it's down to professionalism, pride, and effort to keep their head's above water.

When you get someone who somehow can keep it vital, it's often because they can fall back on a non-pop tradition. I'm thinking specifically of Dylan and his folk (and folk blues) and Richard Thompson and English folk.

Be realistic and look at your greats (whatever your personal choices are) and I am sure you can see a peak of 5 years or at best around 10 and then a fall off into at best workmanlike stuff when they can. No shame in it, it's the way it is.

Well, there goes my book.

Love REM. Love Murmur. I think Reckoning is better. And my wife and I spent more time listening to "Wendell Gee" any other song. Ever.

Ace K.

Marsupial said...

I don't know if I was early or right-on-time for REM. I got there for Murmur, and I remember EVERY frickin' interview and story about the band had to mention that "Murmur' was voted the most beautiful word in the Englinh language, or some such nonsense. But, I loved their work - Murmur, Document, Fables, Life's Rich Pageant (that was the first 'album' that I waited to buy until the CD came out -- remember that?), and Document. Awesome, to me, anyway.

Then, Green came out. Meh. Not bad, but not what I was hoping for. I filled in the time buying bootlegs of weird shows with cover versions, etc. Then, finally, Out of Time. THAT was what I was waiting for! And then... they lost me. Or, I lost them. I just didn't get the rest. Automatic: ok. Monster: ok-minus. When New Adventures came out, I was gone. E-Bow the Letter? Really? I just didn't (& still don't) get it. And then, that's all it took. I was off the reservation, and so completely out of touch with them that I actually Wikipedia'd them a few months ago to find out if they were still together!

But... I guess it is something for me to write all this about a band that I USED TO like. Not sure I would care enough to do that for many other bands.

Marsupial said...

Well, dammit, now I'm listening to old REM songs and I'm getting upset -- like they're dead or something. I guess I still liked them a little more than I thought.

allen vella said...

A lot of great songs, love Bucks guitar work, Mills bass lines even better, Stipe, eh...They were a sound of a certain time and place in my life. Can't say I devoured their albums, but dug most of the singles..and always had fun covering them with boys in the band. mid 80's to mid 90's did it for me...Thanks for the music boys. PAC and Ace K summed it up good..agreed

Anything Should Happen said...

Peter check your email

Anything Should Happen said...


There's a lot to be said for bands just having three great years.

Beatles probably an exception with two lots of three.

bglobe313 said...


I'm with you on a band having two to three years of greatness being nothing to be ashamed about. That still puts the band ahead of most.

In fact as my personal "history of rock" thinking has moved further and further away from the conventional story of artists and bands with long careers and closer to the reality of how great pop music actually works to the creators and to the fans, I have not only come to recognize and seen nothing wrong with a band with one or two good albums, but more so come to respect and seen nothing the matter with a band that has only one or two or three great songs.

The conventional story is that they were only flukes or blew their talent or something, but maybe that's all the talent they had and that single great "one hit wonder" shows instead their ability to capture that one big chance that one bit of transcendence.

(Fact is it's generally true for novelists as well. One great book for most, then at best professionalism. I used to see that as being lazy or some other fault, now I appreciate and understand it is typical and nothing to be ashamed about.)

Ace (way off topic)

Song of Songs said...

For me it's simple. There we're two REM's. The IRS label band and the Warners band. All the IRS stuff is essential listening. Especially Murmer and Reckoning. The earlier stuff from great bands is nearly always the best. As soon as big money and celebrity pressures kick in it all changes. I'm just thankful I discovered them between Murmer and Reckoning. You won't see another REM for a long time if ever. X