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REM - The Demise of R.E.M.

  by Admin

published: 4 / 10 / 2011

REM - The Demise of R.E.M.


Several Pennyblackmusic writers provide their reaction to R.E.M.'s recent decision to break up after 31 years together

When R.E.M. announced their decision to break up in September after thirty one years together, the reaction amongst music fans was wide and varied. Some genuinely mourned; others felt that the Athens, Georgia’s outfit’s time was past, and others too remained totally unaffected. The group’s split met with a mixed effect with the staff at Pennyblackmusic and amongst some writers created e-mail discussion and debate. The reactions of some of Pennyblackmusic's writers to the R.E.M. break-up are listed below. ANTHONY STRUTT: R.E.M. Rest in Peace! To say that R.E.M. have been a big part of my life is very much an understatement. Much as I love the Beatles, I was too young to grow up with them and didn’t move and grow with them with each new record and release. With R.E.M. that was not the case. I first saw them on ‘Whistle Test’ in 1984, bought my first R.E.M. record in 1985, and saw them live at the Hammersmith Palais that year too. From my first minute of watching the band live, I was hooked. I have since bought every record, CD, 7 inch, and 12 inch released by the band, watched them live, both in the UK and also in Germany, and met them all except Bill Berry who quit the band in 1997 due to ill health. Over the course of fifteen albums, various live records and compilations, I have made a number of friends, been entertained, informed, and lived a better life because of this band. They were most famous for their 1991 song ‘Losing My Religion’, but their earlier I.R.S. material was always far superior. ‘Collapse into Now’, their final album of earlier this year, was a decent enough book end. To quote the band, “everybody hurts”, and that is how I'm feeling now. They have made the planet a better place to live. Who knows but maybe their legend will grow more in future years? JON ROGERS: R.E.M. have finally given up the ghost and I'm rather grateful. I can't say that I particularly hated the band and they've made some pretty good albums in their time (‘Murmur’ and ‘Document’ especially), but they far outlived their sell-by date and I have got to say it Michael Stipe was one enormous pretentious cock and loved donning the emperor's new clothes. I defy anyone to come up with any meaningful analysis of the lyrics to ‘World Leader Pretend’. Utter meaningless twaddle dressed up as enigmatic insight. I am clearly out of step with conventional thinking here, but the tag of 'alternative'/'indie' is vastly mis-appropriated and far, far too many bands get unfounded 'credibility' for supposedly being in that genre. To my mind far too many bands get that tag - especially nowadays - for simply being in a band that has guitars. Oooh, they're alternative as they have guitars. In general, there is nothing alternative or even different about any band that plays bog standard rock 'n' roll and have very little to say. While perhaps in their early years, yes, I would classify R.E.M. (hesitantly) as alternative certainly in later years, but, definitely by the time they started playing stadiums, there was nothing alternative about them at all. There is nothing wrong with being popular and wanting success, and nothing wrong with being commercial (I love a lot of commercial pop). Just don't dress it up as something it's not. To my mind R.E.M. were just an above average rock band. As I always think, if that's the alternative, I dread to think what the alternative to the alternative is. JOHN CLARKSON: I have never understood the majority of Michael Stipe’s lyrics, probably because most likely there is nothing to understand. I can see that perhaps there was shyness and social awkwardness involved, but all too often that shyness and social awkwardness and a desire for some kind of privacy, which is fair enough really, has been misinterpreted, ambiguity and vagueness being seen as mysteriousness, and mysteriousness and enigma being misinterpreted in turn as profoundness. I saw them in 1994 at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, and it was corporate rock at its worst, one of the blandest, most anonymous and soulless concerts that I have ever been to. It may of course have just been a bad night. I can see and respect that other people see a lot more in them than I have. For me personally R.E.M., however, have always left me cold. BEN HOWARTH: I really like R.E.M. Although they’ve never topped ‘Automatic for the People’, there have been really good songs on all their albums since... ‘Bang and Blame’, ‘Daysleeper’, ‘Imitation of Life’, ‘Leaving New York’ in particular. It’s a shame they’ve broken up, even if it did feel like the last two records were attempts to recapture past glories, rather than move on. I definitely don’t think Michael Stipe has ever set himself up to be a spokesman or anything like that. Maybe he’s not the best lyricist ever, but I still like the songs. He comes across to me as someone who doesn’t take himself that seriously. He was a guest on ‘This Week’ a few years back, talking about musicians interfering in politics, and came across as a decent guy, well aware of his own limitations. If you were lining up rock stars, based on how much of a cock they were, you’d have Van The Man and Lou Reed at one end and Springsteen right at the other. Stipe would be closer to Springsteen, surely? Obviously ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’ doesn’t mean anything, but nor does’ Sweet Jane’ or anything on ‘Astral Weeks’. It’s still a great tune. Not many bands have been directly influenced by R.E.M., but I think that’s a sign that they are good. Even with the guitar sound, they don’t really sound like the Byrds or anyone else. The big thing R.E.M. have always had were excellent bass-lines and really imaginative backing vocals. LISA TOREM: Michael Stipe comes across as a very shy, down-to-earth man to me. I don't believe the rock persona has affected him all that much... I haven't listened to that much of R.E.M. over the years, so I won't be in tears over this announcement - but I know that they had a strong, loyal following on the west coast. Peter Buck will probably be happy to put his energies into some new directions. PAUL WALLER: Michael Stipe commented that “A wise man once said–’the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it.” Sorry to tell it like it is, Mr Stipe ,but your band became something less than truly great the moment ‘Monster’ hit the shelves in 1994. That’s 17 fucking years, chap. The party has not only finished, but the wrecking crew destroyed the house and built a graveyard on the plot. It’s not as if R.E.M. were desperate to stay relevant once they found massive success with ‘Green’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People’. I’m all for people trying something and failing, but the band’s greatest crime was complacency. They just trod water and released bland album after album until 2008’s ‘Accelerate’ but by then it felt like too little too late. I discovered the band late on during their ‘Out of Time’ mainstream onslaught. I bought the record initially due to the fact that Kate Pierson featured on three tracks and I was a huge B52s fan at the time. I was blown away. Finally here was a band that deserved to be the biggest band in the world. They were not pathetic pedestrians like U2 or industrial chancers such as Depeche Mode winging it until their next overdose. They had a savvy indie intelligence and a classical scope to their music that fit in with the past (The Byrds) and the present (Nirvana). The following week I bought myself ‘The Best Of R.E.M.’ and from that moment and for the next 3 years I became obsessed with the band’s music. The first time I did a DJ themed night at The Pisces Cellar Bar in Margate it was Nirvana themed. The place was packed out. A month later I thought the only other band that would pull in the same type of huge crowd would be R.E.M. so I did the flyers and went to town promoting it. 12 people showed, a few of my friends and a few middle aged men. One of the men brought their dog. This was Christmas 1992. I was 18. R.E.M. maybe meant very little in my town or perhaps they were just the type of band that it was best to listen to at home on your own and not listen to in a bar. Whatever the reason it only strengthened my love for the band. Anyway, there I am almost two years later heading home with my new copy of ‘Monster’ in my hand and I was just so disappointed. I blame Peter Buck and his return to guitar, cranking on the effects pedals and distortion was so weak for a band that could do and always had done so much more. For once I understood Stipe’s words and a lot of them trod that horrid path of woe, the tortured celebrity. Still maybe it was a blip. Every band of worth has blips, sometimes many blips but this was just the beginning. Another two years passed and ‘Adventures in Hi-Fi’ arrived. Again it was okay but nothing special. It felt overlong, like 10 minutes worth of good ideas had been stretched over an hour’s worth of music. At this point I became an occasional listener rather than a fan as judging from the record sales figures so did most of the world. Now I have to admit that ‘Accelerate’ was a slight recovery, I listened to it a few times before I sold it on. But that album was more about recapturing some of their spunk. Like a midlife crisis LP or something. I won’t miss them as to me they were already long dead, but only once since have I felt such joy when discovering a band’s back catalogue. For those years of my life R.E.M. meant so much and pre ‘Monster’ the discography is one of the greatest out there to this day. MAARTEN SCHIETHART: I was fanclub member #3, and the first non-US citizen! Youthful mistake? I was only 23! It is an odd fact that REM were the only band to do a Peel session who had no record played by Peel ever. DENZIL WATSON: The end of the world as we know it? Well, not quite. But it is the end of a very long musical journey for the Athens-based four piece. Nigh on 31 years in fact. Every band has their shelf life so credit due to the three remaining original members, Michael Stipe, Mick Mills and Peter Buck for recognising that their creative well had just about run dry. Since peaking in 1992 with ‘Automatic for the People’, ‘Monster’ (1994), “New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ (1996) and ‘Up’ (1998) let us down gently. Since then, though, even the most hardcore R.E.M. fan would find it hard to argue that pickings have been rather frugal from 2001’s ‘Reveal’ onwards. But still, there is a sense of loss. At their best they were undoubtedly one of the best groups in the world. How can you not shed a tear to ‘Everybody Hurts’ or do a little jig to ‘Losing My Religion’ at the wedding disco? Or fall in love with ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’, ‘Stand’, ‘The One I Love’or any of the dozens of other top-notch indie-pop songs they penned over the years? So, like the old Granddad you have loved so dearly over the years but realise it’s time for them to go to a better place, R.E.M. have passed into musical history. They will most definitely be missed and remembered like the warm glow of a camp fire on a balmy Summer night in Georgia. I’ve now got to figure out how explain to my two year-old son that the creators of the first song he ever danced to (the band’s cover of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’) are no more…. CARL BOOKSTEIN: The year was 1984 and along the westbound highway from Michigan to California, the cassette of R.E.M’s ‘Murmur’ never left my tape deck. For months subsequent in San Diego, CA where I first saw R.E.M live at San Diego’s small Fox Theatre, ‘Murmur’ remained my number one album of choice. As an avid fan, I followed every phase of their career, with personal highlights including ‘Fables of the Reconstruction’, ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’ and ‘Automatic for the People’. Their music somehow hit my soul down deep and then reflected outwards. I saw them live a number of times over the years and owned almost every album. When drummer Bill Berry retired after ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’, I was not ready for the music to be over. While for me, although the post-Berry REM music never rose to the same level again, I still wanted more. While I think that they chose the right time to hang it up, I am glad they lasted thirty one years. I will still be listening to their music for the next thirty one. JEFF THIESSEN: To me, the band's legacy can be summed up by a single televised appearance: the seminal colllaboration between R.E.M., Kate Pierson of the B-52's, and the entire Seaseme Street puppet team performing a brilliant reimagining of 'Shiny, Happy People' entitled 'Furry Happy Monsters'. It was all downhill for R.E.M. after this obvious peak in their career ADRIAN HUGGINS: They've not done anything I've been massively bothered about for a while, but they were still a fantastic group. 'Monster' is one of my favourite albums of all time and I'd also add, and this is actual scientific fact as proven by a crack squirrel commando team, that anyone who pretends they don't like anything by them is an actual idiot. Good night and Stipe Bless. SPENCER ROBERTSHAW: The demise of a band or singer to one person will mean absolutely nothing and to others will be completely devastating. I can take or leave Elvis Presley, but just look at the thousands who every year make pilgrimages to Graceland or to the grave of Jim Morrison in Paris. Music has always been the most powerful of any product. It can bring a man to his knees if introduced at the right time or make the same individual want to take on the world at another. Perhaps this is why people will mourn a band’s passing. but only the people that that particular band had for some reason influenced, and who is to say why this happens to one subject and not another. The one thing that can be safely said about R.E.M’s break-up is that no two people’s interpretation will be the same and nor for that matter should it be.

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Live from Austin, Texas (2010)
REM - Live from Austin, Texas
Anthony Strutt examines R.E.M's new seventeen song DVD, which comes from American TV show, 'Austin City Limits', and was filmed at the time of their 2008 album 'Accelerate'

live reviews

Royal Albert Hall and iTUnes, London, 24/3/2008 and 26/3/2008
REM - Royal Albert Hall and iTUnes, London, 24/3/2008 and 26/3/2008
At two showcase gigs to promote their new album 'Accelerate', one at the Royal Albert Hall, the other a tiny show at the iTunes Store, Anthony Strutt watches two very different, but almost equally powerful performances
Hammersmith Odeon, London, 19/2/2005
Make Trade Fair Oxfam, Hammersmith Apollo, 20/9/20
Carling Academy, London, 24/6/2003 (1st Night)
Carling Academy, London, 25/6/2003 (2nd Night)

favourite album

Fables of the Reconstruction (2010)
REM - Fables of the Reconstruction
Anthony Strutt examines R.E.M.'s 1985 third album, 'Fables of the Reconstruction', which is the latest of their albums to be remastered
Automatic for the People (2010)

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