REM Call it Quits…About Fifteen Years Too Late
After forming in Athens, Georgia back in 1980, the band very early in its humble beginnings became a fixture on the walkmans of college kids across the US. And for a group that made a point of never really playing by the book as far as career choices went, it still became a multi-million album seller over its thirty year career.
And it’s here that I need to make a confession:
I could care less.
I was in high school when REM really started to take off, thanks not only to a back catalogue of great albums like their 1983 debut Murmur and 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant but the commercial success of 1988’s Green. At that time, however, REM still had a mystique to them that I enjoyed almost as much as the music. I remember a close friend and band mate of mine wearing his early years REM tshirt to class, with the ‘Berry Buck Mills Stipe’ logo proudly splayed across the back in crooked letters. I liked the fact that you never really knew what the hell Stipe was singing about, or that Peter Buck didn’t like to waste too much time on guitar solos. Bill Berry was the only drummer around who wasn’t afraid to rock the unibrow look, and Mike Mills somehow managed to play those basslines and sing perfect harmony at the same time.
For me though, the REM that I knew and loved died a little bit more and more after the success of Green and the nine albums that would eventually follow it. I admit starting to dislike a band because it’s become popular is about as clichéd as you can get, but I can honestly say that by the arrival of Out of Time in 1991 and the massive single Losing My Religion I was growing tired of REM. And it wasn’t because the band were now officially Top 40 material, or that the mystery was gone from Stipe’s lyrics since he no longer mumbled/sang.
No, for me the problem was a simple one, summed up in three stomach churning words:
Shiny Happy People.
It was when I brought my copy of Out of Time home and gave it its first run through that I realized REM was a band that had changed. Big time. And it was when I first heard Shiny Happy People, featuring backing vocals from Kate Pierson of the B-52s, that I knew REM was becoming a band that I was starting to lose respect for. By the time the video was released for Shiny Happy People that was pretty much it for me and REM. I was finished. To this day, I rank Shiny Happy People as some of the worst three and a half minutes of creative energy ever put to tape.
After Out of Time, for me REM started to become a band I knew only for the string of songs it released that somehow managed to strike a nerve in me for all the wrong reasons, and as a result, just plain annoy me. Man on the Moon from 1992’s Automatic for the People, and What’s the Frequency Kenneth, from 1994’s Monster, were the final nails in the REM coffin. When drummer Bill Berry left the group in 1997 because of health issues and the realization he no longer wanted to be in the limelight, I thought, “Good for you! Wait-the other three are going to keep going? Oh…whatever.”
So here we are. Fourteen years after the departure of Berry the remaining three original members of REM have decided it’s time to retire the name and move on. Perhaps you’re someone who has enjoyed REM’s creative output over the past decade or so, and if that’s the case I am truly sorry for your loss. Now you know how myself and a few others felt like back in 1991 after hearing Shiny Happy People for the first time.
But let’s not leave on a negative note. Here’s a full concert from REM circa 1985, with a heavy dose of songs from Fables of the Reconstruction, released that same year.