Jason’s Jukebox: REM

The 1980’s were a great time for indie music (or alternative). You had great bands that gained mass popularity like Duran Duran, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, and The Clash. But one band that hovered under the radar for quite a while was REM. It’s also one of those rare 80’s acts that managed not only to survive the 90’s, but put out most of their best material in that decade. This time around, I’ll be looking at their albums.

The line-up:

  • Michael Stipe: vocals
  • Peter Buck: guitar
  • Mike Mills: Bass/backing vocals
  • Bill Berry: drums

murmur Murmur (1983) ****

Single: “Radio Free Europe”
Rolling Stone may have been occasionally out of touch over its lifespan, but it was on the right track when it gave the debut 4 out of 5 stars. Today, over thirty years after its release, it’s still one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard. I just wish Stipe was more coherent, but he fixed that later on, thank goodness.

Best tracks: “Radio Free Europe”, “Talk About the Passion”, “Perfect Circle”, “Sitting Still”

reckoningReckoning (1984) ***

Singles: “South Central Rain”, “Don’t Go Back to Rockville”

Producer Don Dixon wanted this album to rock harder than its predecessor, but it doesn’t really work for me. There’s some standouts, but I don’t like it as much as Murmur.

Best tracks: “Harborcoat”, “South Central Rain”, “Pretty Persuasion”

fablesFables of the Reconstruction ** (1985)

Singles: “Can’t Get There From Here”, “Driver 8”, “Wendell Gee”

This was the only REM album produced outside the US, working with Joe Boyd as their producer. The album is one of REM’s concepts (the other being Automatic For the People), exploring Southern Gothic themes. At the time, it was REM’s highest charter, reaching #28. However, Michael Stipe wasn’t fond of the result at first, but over the years he and Buck have changed their minds.  It’s not bad, but I’m not a fan.

Best tracks: “Driver 8”, “Green Grow the Rushes”

pageantLife’s Rich Pageant ***1/2 (1986)

Singles: “Fall On Me”, “Superman”

This was REM’s first gold album. It was REM’s first foray into political themes with songs like “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoya” heralding a trend that would continue for quite a few albums.

Best tracks: “Fall On Me”, “Cuyahoga”, “Superman”, “Flowers of Guatemala”

deadletterDead Letter Office ***1/2 (1987)

This is REM’s B-sides and rarities collection, so it’s only here for completeness. It marks the transition to Warner Bros and bigger fame. What really sells it are the covers.

Best tracks: “Toys in the Attic”, “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Femme Fatale”, “King of the Road”

documentDocument *****(1987)

Singles: “The One I Love”, “End of the World”, “Finest Worksong”

This was one of REM’s most important albums, marking the end of their status as solely alternative rock and the beginning of their more mainstream success. It was their final album with IRS, and their first with producer Scott Litt, who did phenomenal work with them over the years. For me, this was my introduction to the band, thanks to the loads of airplay “The One I Love” got. It’s still one of their best albums, even if I can’t sing around with “End of the World”

Best tracks: “Exhuming McCarthy”, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, “The One I Love”, “Fireplace”,  “King of Birds”

green Green ***** (1988)

Singles: “Stand”  “Pop Song 89”, “Orange Crush”

REM was not a band to rest on the laurels of Document. They changed labels and proved with Green that anyone who would say “they’re popular, now they suck” would be dead wrong. Keeping Scott Litt was a great move. It’s really hard for me to pick between this one or Automatic For the People.

Best tracks: “Pop Song 89”, “World Leader Pretend”, “Stand”, “Orange Crush”, “I Remember California”

outOut of Time ***(1991)

Singles: “Losing My Religion”, “Shiny Happy People”, “Radio Song”

REM’s Grammy winner showed that while 1991’s pop scene was dodgy, the alternative scene was exploding. Not every chart-topper from that year managed to stick around, but REM poised to be one of the few 80’s bands to continue into the “grunge” era of alternative rock. It may have followed some trends (like having a guest rapper), but it wasn’t bad by a long shot.

Best tracks: “Radio Song”, “Losing My Religion”, “Texarkana”

automaticAutomatic For the People ***** (1992)

Singles: “Drive”, “Man on the Moon”, “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”, “Everybody Hurts”, “Nightswimming”

This album marked some experimentation, with Mike and Bill changing duties (Bill even played bass). Many fans, including myself, think this was their peak.

Best tracks: “Try Not to Breathe”, “Everybody Hurts”, “Man on the Moon”, “Drive”, “Nightswimming”

monsterMonster  ***1/2 (1994)

Singles: “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”, “Crush With Eyeliner”, “Bang and Blame”

Monster marked a change in sound as REM tried to emulate the grunge scene. Upon first listen, it didn’t seem like it fit, but after a few more, I’ve realized this isn’t a bad album to revisit, mostly because they didn’t stay grunge.

Best tracks: “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”, “Crush With Eyeliner”, “Bang and Blame”, “I Took Your Name”

newNew Adventures in Hi-Fi ***1/2 (1996)

Singles: “E-Bow the Letter”, “Bittersweet Me”, “Electrolite”

This was Bill Berry’s final album (he bore no ill will, actually). It’s not a bad exit and it happens to be Stipe’s favorite album.

Best tracks: “How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us”, “E-Bow the Letter”, “Bittersweet Me”, “Zither”, “Electrolite”

upUp **1/2 (1998)

Singles: “Daysleeper”, “At My Most Beautiful”

The beginning of the “post-Berry” era, and not a bad way to start, just not one I’d listen to a lot.

Best tracks: “Daysleeper”, “Lotus”, “Hope”, “At My Beautiful”

reveal Reveal **(2001)

Singles: “All the Way to Reno”, “Imitation of Life”

In my opinion, one of their worst albums, but I still like some of it.
Best tracks: “All the Way to Reno”, “Imitation of Life”

aroundAround the Sun **(2004)

Singles: “Leaving New York”, “Electron Blue”

It gets props for Q-tip’s guest appearance, but it’s just not good.

Best tracks: “Leaving New York”, “The Outsiders”

accelerateAccelerate ***(2008)

Singles: “Supernatural Superserious”, “Hollow Man”, “Until Day is Done”,

It’s a shame REM started to wind down by this point, because this wasn’t bad, in fact I think it’s the best of the post-Berry phase.

Best Tracks: “Man-sized Wreath”, “Supernatural Superserious”, “Hollow Man”, “Accelerate”

collapse Collapse Into Now ***(2011)

Single: “Mine Smell Like Honey”

A fittingly-named finale. They wanted to go out on a high note and they did!

Best tracks: “Überlin”, “It Happened Today”, “Mine Smell Like Honey”

And now for my ranking:

16) Around the Sun

15) Reveal

14) Reckoning

13) Up

12) Fables Of the Reconstruction

11) Accelerate

10) Collapse Into Now

9) New Adventures in Hi-fi

8) Dead Letter Office

7) Monster

6) Life’s Rich Pageant

5) Murmur

4) Out of Time

3) Green

2) Document

1) Automatic For the People





Author: rocklobsterjwt

I am a Christian and an anime fan. My blog will cover anime reviews and maybe an occasional story

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