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?