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.
- Michael Stipe: vocals
- Peter Buck: guitar
- Mike Mills: Bass/backing vocals
- Bill Berry: drums
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”
Reckoning (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”
Fables 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”
Life’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”
Dead 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”
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”