R.E.M.’s public profile has seemingly dropped considerably in recent years, which is somewhat strange to me.
Sure, I know they broke up a while back; but they weren’t just a really-popular band during their run; they were also a really GOOD band.
Maybe a near-perfect one, in the way the players’ individual strengths were alloyed into the whole.
There are lots of bands that succeed in spite of some of their players’ limitations, or even because of them; but it’s rare to get an equal distribution of such incredible talents in a band, while mostly avoiding ego clashes.
Peter Buck cranked out riff after riff after riff, ranging from Byrds-inspired chime to rock crunch; secret MVP (Most Valuable Polymath) Mike Mills played a mean melodic bass and whatever other instrument was needed, while contributing lonesome high harmonies and even the occasional lead vocal; Bill Berry was the consummate pro drummer, never flashy, always musical, propulsively and supplely and nimbly supporting the needs of the song over all; and in Michael Stipe, they had a highly-original rock frontman with a distinctive earthy voice, and seemingly a burning desire to avoid pedestrian cliche pop lyrics and set free his words’ imagery from the tyranny of concrete meaning (and sometimes, in the early going, even from the tyranny of intelligibility).
This concert catches them around their third album Fables of the Reconstruction; a few weeks ago, I thought I was SO SMART likening them to CCR, while forgetting they themselves were known to cover CCR (here around the 34 min. mark), as well as Television, Roger Miller, Aerosmith and the Stones.
Well worth your time.
While I like the first few albums R.E.M. did after they went to the majors -- I didn’t really get off the R.E.M. train until 1994’s Monster, and I couldn’t tell you much about the final six(!) -- their initial 5-album run (and Chronic Town EP) on independent I.R.S. Records is pretty much unfishwithable.
Here are just the opening songs of each one, and they are IMO all great.
“Wolves, Lower”, from the Chronic Town EP, immediately establishes some mystery with its title alone…what’s up with that syntax and punctuation? Am I looking at a card catalog entry?
Here, I am gonna cheat. I much prefer the original Hib-Tone single of “Radio Free Europe” to the version on Murmur (according to the Eponymous liner notes, so does the band).
But since that has no video, we’ll do a live performance that retains a little of the fire that was lost on the debut LP’s re-recording.
This one from Reckoning is beautiful enough to almost make me want to go pinko commie (NO POLITICS!):
Like the album it opens, Fables of the Reconstruction, there’s something just a bit disconcerting about this next one.
It sounds like a bad trip, punctuated only by brief fleeting interludes of sunlight that quickly give way to roiling dark clouds again:
OTOH, this is maybe the most satisfying rumble of an album intro ever. Guitars and bass and drums and guttural vocals all come correct and crunchy; R.E.M. are announcing they came here to rock and chew bubblegum, and they are all out of bubblegum (well, at least until they get to the album-ending “Superman”):
“What we want, and what we need, has been confused”: