Talk About the Passion: The End of R.E.M.

When I heard on the radio that R.E.M. is breaking up after 30 years together, my first thought was, they are still kicking?  Formed in January 1980 at the University of Georgia in Athens, their early sound was an eclectic wash of delight.  No disrespect is meant to my love of their songs through about 1986.  They had me with “Talk About the Passion,” “Sitting Still,” “Can’t Get There From Here” and just about everything on the “Lifes Rich Pageant” and “Document” albums.  

Yet put me in the diehard bunch who still feels the corner turned in 1988 with “Green” wasn’t for the best in terms of R.E.M.’s indie, signature sound.  It was their major label debut and the full embrace of circle the drain pop (see “Stand”) did nothing for me.  By the time we got to “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People,” I was no longer purchasing – though I did poke my head back up for “Man on the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts.”  To me, the band was spread thin and scattered even to the point of trying to compete with the world of grunge in 1994 and putting out harder rock on “Monster” that flopped. 

I’m not alone in this let down feeling as seen in this quote from an Amazon customer reviewing the “Up” album in December 1998:

“Do these guys really think this stuff is good? I wonder. You can sit back and listen to Murmur by candlelight, and it’ll draw all your tensions out of you; this just grates on you until you finally get up, turn it off, and fling it out the window.”

In case you’ve lost track too, here’s R.E.M.’s discography:

  • Murmur (1983)
  • Reckoning (1984)
  • Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
  • Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
  • Document (1987)
  • Green (1988)
  • Out of Time (1991)
  • Automatic for the People (1992)
  • Monster (1994)
  • New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
  • Up (1998)
  • Reveal (2001)
  • Around the Sun (2004)
  • Accelerate (2008)
  • Collapse into Now (2011)

Fun fact: The band originally called themselves the Twisted Kites, but decided on a renaming while flipping through a dictionary

R.E.M. ending has got me thinking about other bands that are still lurching travelling around.  I know the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith are still kicking 40 years strong.  How many of these groups are still putting out new material?  And how receptive are their longstanding fans to it?  Are we as fans unfairly handcuffing groups to periods in time due to our yearning for yesteryear? 

So what do you think?  Can a band evolve and still be relevant after decades in the business?  Would you buy their new music or just stick with the oldies?

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8 Responses to Talk About the Passion: The End of R.E.M.

  1. I had no idea they’ve been still together. I’ve always liked their music but you’re right – many of those old bands don’t produce any new music and only ride on some old waves of fame.

  2. I love that there are old bands from the sixties, seventies and eighties that are still touring! They may not fill a stadium, but they have their following of loyal fans. I went to see James Taylor and Carole King during their Troubadour Tour. They still sound the same. Fabulous.

  3. It’s always so sad to me when I hear about a band breaking up, but when I heard this I had the same thought, ‘They’re still together?’.

    I saw them in concert way back in the early 80’s and it was one of the best I’ve ever been to. I don’t go to concerts anymore (my ears are way too sensitive) and I’m not sure there’s a band that has stood the test of time for me. Maybe Aerosmith, but I only like a few of their songs.

    Maybe because I grow and evolve with the music scene – too many bands get a sound and stick to it and I grow out of that sound.

    I love your posts that take me back in time.

    • Thanks Tameri! I appreciate your feedback. I saw R.E.M. in the 80’s too (though later in the decade) and LOVED them. So much talent and raw, honest energy. I also don’t go to as many concerts because many newer acts seem to phone it in and not even perform live.

  4. Hartford says:

    Yeah, I was sad to hear they were breaking up. I love to get lost in the songs of my youth – they can take you right back and awaken your senses. I love bands that stick together over the years and I am always open to buying their new stuff as they grow and evolve.

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks for sharing Natalie. Sounds like you fall into the camp that is willing to embrace a band’s new work and sound. That is cool to be willing to take the ride.

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