The past Thursday was not a happy day – cricketer Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi moved to the great beyond, I got a note from my favourite restaurant/bar, known for its weekend live music performances, that the cops have aggressively acted on breaking the ‘unholy’ alliance of drink and live music, and a band whose music I have loved through so many years has – how do I put this – disbanded.
I’m feeling sad and lonely today as I listen to track after track of R.E.M. My introduction to R.E.M. – as it was for countless others – was ‘Losing My Religion’ with its obscure lyrics, phenomenal music and yes, brilliant video. The band’s music has a distinct pre- and post- ‘Losing My Religion’ divide. They were a hugely respected cult band before that single and they became a hugely respected massively followed band since. Strangely, I never got around to buying their earlier albums. That shall soon be corrected although I feel rather small that it took their break-up for me to get there.
On rare occasions, I can be ambitious. This is one such. I’ve put together from a rich body of outstanding work, samples of 5 songs that have moved me, drawn me in and held me captive. It’s been difficult yet very enriching, as is every instance that I have heard R.E.M.’s music. How could I leave out the mesmerising ‘E-Bow The Letter’ enriched as it is with Patti Smith’s haunting background vocals, ‘Man On The Moon’ especially with that little space where Michael Stipe (I think it was him and not Mike Mills or Peter Buck) does an Elvis, the stunning ‘Electrolyte’ and ‘All The Way To Reno’, the jangly near-punk of their first single ‘Radio Free Europe’? Yet, I did – and as I said, I have heard very little of their earlier work, so that leaves out a lot. I am as frequently daft as rarely ambitious.
I hope you will listen to these and open your ears, hearts and mind to that greater collection.
‘Living Well Is The Best Revenge’ is one of the most frenetic openings of any album that I have heard and it captures the power that R.E.M. could summon when they chose to. I have said a bit about ‘Losing My Religion’ already. Enough said, play. And so on to the big, arena rock sound of ‘Discoverer’ from their last album ‘Collapse Into Now’ released this year. I came near closing this set with the achingly beautiful and very poignant ‘Everybody Hurts’ but I finally opted for the very appropriate ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I feel Fine)’ as the parting note.
Take a bow R.E.M.
If you’d like to discover more of R.E.M.’s music without diving into their terrific album catalog, the collections ‘And I Feel Fine…: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987’ and ‘In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003’ are a good starting point.