We know about time: The best of R.E.M.

Music File Photos 1980s

In 1995 the only band bigger than R.E.M. was U2. In 2005, the only band less relevant than R.E.M. was Reel Big Fish. When the fingers of time ripped the calendar page from January 2015 I was asking my students at the radio station if they listened to R.E.M. It was like asking a student in 1995 about the Stones’ sixties achievements — indeed, ladies and gents who mourn the circles around their eyes, we had reached equidistant spans of time. I would date the start of the Athens band’s obsolescence from the moment it signed a record contract when its drummer and most crucial member’s health were dictating different terms. But 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi was excellent anyway. Two albums and a new century later, a caffeinated Peter Buck would praise the liberties that drum loops afforded them when goddamn Rickie Lee Jones had gotten there first. What’s poignant about the 2001 comedown was how a couple years earlier R.E.M. released Up to indifferent American sales at the peak of teen pop acts when a decade and career trajectory ago Green was competing with New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and Tiffany.

Call it burnout. Familiarity. Blame rewiring of pleasure centers. It’s impossible for me to find the motivation to pull out an R.E.M. record. Untroubled by how swiftly I compiled the following list of songs, I opted to listen to Fantasia and Parquet Courts — I’m sure she’s heard of R.E.M., the latter probably claim their elders as influences. Memory keeps 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant at the top of the heap, with Don Gehman treating Bill Berry as if he were Kenny Aronoff and a newly articulate Michael Stipe as client John Cougar Mellencamp. Stipe always wrote mush, but his mates’ Wire-y force animates cornball material like “I Believe” and “Fall On Me.” In college I wrote a short story called “Not Everyone Can Carry the Weight of the World,” which should tell my readers something about Murmur‘s hypnotic power on young men of a pretty persuasion.

I love Monster more than the list indicates; during it Fables of the Reconstruction’s Southern gumbo got caught in Stipe’s throat and the swamp mud coating the rhythm section.s twentieth anniversary a revisit made me hug it close. You can’t imagine how loudly I growled when a newly bald Stipe growled “Am I straight or queer or bi?” a year after the American public still needed fables of the reconstruction like Philadelphia to assuage its guilt about not giving a shit about gays with AIDS.

Speaking of, Fables of the Reconstruction’s obscurantic Southern tropes got caught in Stipe’s throat and the swamp mud coating the rhythm section. Out of Time remains a deserved Soundscan-era breakthrough, not only because it boasted songs like “Texarkana” and “Low” on a #1 record but it granted retrospective validation to Green‘s “You Are the Everything,” the lullaby that soundtracked Luke Perry’s Dylan McKay’s fetal position misery as he thought of the dad he never knew in an awesome Beverly Hills, 90210 episode from summer 1991.

Automatic for the People is even better: as dignified and alert as a beloved grandpa or aunt, with as many insights.

I should give’em another shot. “Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up” is a banality I can recite ten times around a “Hail, Mary” before bed as November approaches.

1. I Believe
2. Radio Free Europe
3. Wolves, Lower
4. Laughing
5. Perfect Circle
6. Pretty Persuasion
7. Flowers of Guatemala
8. Fall on Me
9. Half a World Away
10. Driver 8
11. Try Not to Breathe
12. Talk About the Passion
13. King of Comedy
14. Catapult
15. Begin the Begin
16. Stand
17. Finest Worksong
18. Superman
19. New Test Leper
20. Low
21. Bittersweet Me
22. Find the River
23. Gardening at Night
24. Monty Got a Raw Deal
25. Losing My Religion
26. Country Feedback
27. Second Guessing
28. Leave
29. E-Bow the Letter
30. Cuyahoga
31. So. Central Rain
32. Star 69
33. Get Up
34. Let Me In
35. Departure
36. Sitting Still
37. Green Grow the Rushes
38. Nightswimming
39. Shiny Happy People
40. The Lifting

2 thoughts on “We know about time: The best of R.E.M.

  1. Good list. Your 29-31 are all top-10 REM songs for me and Contry Feedback HAS to be in there (I just checked three times, positive I was overlooking it), but a good list nonetheless. Beat a Drum and Electrolite are less egregious oversights but in my top-25 or so. Bonus points for “Leave” being on there. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is such a damn fine record.

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