I suppose that it had to happen at some point or another. But I sure as hell wish I had seen them live before it did. REM announced last week that they were splitting up. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing since already the original drummer Bill Berry has been replaced with a drum machine and the albums over the last decade have not, with the notable exception of Accelerate, really been up to the quality of their early music.
I got into R.E.M. in college thanks to my roommate at the time, Geoffroy Rodgers (wonder where you are these days Geoff…). Actually, he turned me on to loads of music but in particular, he helped me appreciate the low-key music of the boys from Athens, GA and their obscure lyrics. The murky sounds emanating from Murmur with the signature Peter Buck guitar and Michael Stipe vocals took some time to grow on my but I was soon hooked. I remember that he had the original LPs from the IRS label. The sleeve had this wonderful paper texture (similar but different to that on the original Zeppelin In Through the Out Door which I have). I think I got the CD about 1988 or so and quickly bought Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life’s Rich Pagent in short order. Each had its own unique feeling and rhythm as Stipes lyrics remained enigmatic and by and large indecipherable. When I finally bought Document #5, the frat boys had discovered the more “party” songs on that particular disc and the succeeding disks never really impressed me after that. I liked Document OK and Green was OK but they had turned a corner and gone too far in the pop-rock-star direction for me. I suppose it was too radical a shift from the early albums that I just mentioned. Another gem is the outtake album, Dead Letter Office, also from 1987 where they cover loads of tunes including a wonderful Pale Blue Eyes and King of the Road. It is this early R.E.M. that I most treasure and kick myself in the ass for never having seen live.
The two albums that stick out for me in their more modern period are 2010’s Accelerate which I found to be well-rounded and fun and less grandstanding than previous efforts and Live at the Olympia where more than half the songs hanker back to the early days I just referred to.
I wish Michael, Peter and Mike the best of luck and am pretty sure there will be one of those dinosaur reunions a few years hence…