The alternative rock band R.E.M have REcently announced that they are splitting up, which will come as a bit of a shock to many, including me. They first emerged in the early 1980s from the college radio scene. at first they were scrappy and lo-fi, abrasive but somehow beautiful, and the development of this sound would one day help them become bona-fide stadium-fillers later on in their their career.
The group – Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry – played their first gig in a church on 5 April 1980 under the name of Twisted Kites, they played a mixture of post-punk poise and jangly guitar which made them seem simultaneously cutting-edge and a romantic reminder of rock’s past and they soon became popular.
Their music was influenced by their small-town surroundings and is closer to real life stating that “It’s great just to bring out an emotion… better to make someone feel nostalgic or wistful or excited or sad.”
Commercially speaking, their breakthrough came when they released the single “The One I Love” which was taken from the 1987 Album “Document”. The next single “Freaks” saw REM outgrow the university centred underground music scene which had so-far sustained them, and they hit the big time, and Their next release 1988’s “Green” was released by a major label and was seen by many as their true peak.
Lyrically, the album saw the band dealing with a number of important issues – World leader Pretend is a deft criticism of the remote ruling classes, while Pop Song ’89 tackles claims the band had sold out by purporting to be, in Stipe’s words, “the prototype of, and hopefully the end of, a pop song”.
The next album “Out of Time” proved to be an even bigger hit. Featuring the career-defining singles Losing My Religion, which some regard to be the touchstone of alternative rock and Shiny Happy People, featuring fellow Athenian Kate Pierson from the B52’s. With this album it seems that The band were aiming to make a massively successful, mainstream record without embarrassing, or compromising, themselves – They certainly succeeded
Michael Stipe’s inner demons also came to the fore In the next album, 1992’s Automatic For The People, which is A more sombre, reflective album that features string arrangements by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. This album was also to yeild some wonderful songs like “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” and “Everybody Hurts”
Sidewinder Sleeps tonite
The band’s next two albums Monster and New Adventures In Hi-Fi were largely recorded live – some tracks taken from soundchecks taken during the massive stadium tour, and featured some new classics, such as Let Me In, a tribute to the recently deceased Kurt Cobain.
Unfortunately drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm and quit the band in 1997, and things never quite returned to the giddy heights of “Out of Time” and Moments of brilliance, such as The Great Beyond or Imitation Of Life, became less frequently. Leading some band members to pursue side-projects, Stipe increasingly pusued his film work,while Peter Buck concentrated more on his country supergroup Tired Pony.
Despite this REM continued to be unbeatable live performers to the end and their final album, Collapse Into Now, was hailed, like many of its predecessors, as a return to form. Certainly, the band sounded rejuvenated and a lot more energetic than on some of the previous work which was released in the mid-2000s. In addition They also recently re-released an earlier album “Lifes Rich Pageant” which is also a great album. REM will always remain one of the most influential bands of their generation