By Chris Moore:
R.E.M. is a band that I feel like I have always known about, a group that has somehow worked its way into the cultural fabric of the past several decades. Watching a post-apocalyptic thriller, the chances are better than not that you’ll hear “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” The number of classic, epic, and usually beautifully simple ballads that they’ve released is staggering: “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” and “The One I Love” to name only a few.
Now, after over thirty years as a band, they have, according to the official announcement on their website, “decided to call it a day as a band… [and] walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished.”
So, before you take the time to scour the internet, looking for articles, yearning for some sign that this might all somehow be a mistake, allow me to save you some time. First: as of this writing, my best advice would be:
Skip the articles and go directly to the R.E.M. H.Q. official home page.
That’s where you’ll find the band’s official announcement, direct messages from each of the band members, and the Warner Brothers press release. All the other articles I’ve read have simply copied and pasted from these sources, and added little or nothing to the conversation. The only other vital piece of information has come from owner of the R.E.M. fan community Murmurs and former Senior Vice President of Emerging Technology at Warner Bros. Records Ethan Kaplan, who has suggested that internal pressures at the label may have been the catalyst for this breakup. For that, you should cruise on over to Wikipedia and prepare to hate all things corporate even more than you might have before.
I suppose there isn’t much to say right now. There isn’t much to do, except cue up some R.E.M. on your iPod, reminisce about their hits and misses, and prepare for the slew of retrospective articles and “essential songs” playlists that are certain to saturate the world wide web in the coming weeks. While I wait, perhaps I’ll add my own brief story to those even now being written around the world:
My knowledge of R.E.M. in a vague sense finally passed away the day I stood, as a college student between classes, in the aisle of Best Buy, interested in their greatest hits. Of course, there wasn’t one definitive collection, so I stood pondering between the best of the I.R.S. years and the best of the Warner Bros. years. Eventually, I chose the pricier third option of buying them both!
What I heard didn’t thrill me at first. And, even to this day, I understand the opinion I’ve heard from others that “all their songs sound the same.” That being said, discovering the music of R.E.M. has been like an adventure for me, one that began not with the greatest hits, but with 2008’s Accelerate. The grungy, subversive rock and roll vitality of this album turned me on to the band in a way that none of their other music did or has since. Since then, I have been picking up their back catalog one used CD and one remastered Deluxe Edition at a time.
While it has been a very rewarding experience and I’ve developed a serious appreciation, and even a love, for R.E.M., nothing I’ve heard has equaled the force of Accelerate (and I realize I’m about the only person on the planet who feels this way). This year’s Collapse Into Now is a marvelous record, if only for the manner in which they merged the energy of Accelerate with the classic sound they created in their youth and developed over a long career.
I will end with a plea to all those paid writers out there now, preparing their pieces for the major magazines and websites they work for: Please avoid the mundane reductions of this band’s massive career. And please — pretty please — don’t add to the “R.E.M. had declined recently” rhetoric that is still out there. The late nineties and early 2000s was a period of decline to be certain, but they had recently undergone an infusion of energy and vitality that I, for one, have been excited about — it has been the one force, of all their various talents expressed throughout the years, that has interested me in their music — and it will be sorely missed.