R.E.M. – Retracing The Maps & Legends – Part 3

By • Oct 5th, 2011 • Category: Features

R.E.M. - Up

“Walk Unafraid” (1998)

The retirement of drummer Bill Berry caused something of a mid-life crisis. Having always been a democracy, R.E.M. didn’t know how to proceed without one of the founding members. Up is, as a result, a timid, nervous album, rife with attempts at new sonic directions. “Walk Unafraid” is unabashedly tender, a messy piece of noise-pop in which Stipe baldly lays out his fears for all to see. Peter Buck puts the E-bow to fantastic use, and Stipe’s lyrics, though they lack the subtlety of the band’s early years, are resonant and powerful: “They claim to walk unafraid/I’ll be clumsy instead/Oh my love me/Or leave me/High”. (NG)

R.E.M. - Reveal

“I’ll Take The Rain” (2001)

Some people argue that R.E.M. lost relevance once Bill Berry left the band, and they do have a point, if only a convenient patsy to point the finger at. In truth, the creative rot began to set in with Reveal. It’s the sound of a once-great band plateauing. The singles (“Imitation Of Life”, “Reno”) fit the buoyant jangled mould, but elsewhere was a widening absence of merited song. “I’ll Take The Rain” is one of Reveal‘s saving graces. It can be disheartening to hear R.E.M. so obviously resort to the power ballad, but if you excuse the lazy metaphors it’s easy enough to fall under its charm. Tacked toward the end of an album, “I’ll Take The Rain” was R.E.M.’s way of saying “thank you for getting this far”. (CS)

R.E.M. - Around The Sun

“The Outsiders” (2004)

Let’s be honest: though R.E.M. has never made a bad album, Around The Sun is undoubtedly their worst. It lacks direction and purpose, falls into the same pitfalls as Up and Reveal while mostly treading water on their successes. “The Outsiders” is an attempt at something arty and new, a subtly accented ballad ending in a rapped verse (performed on the album by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest). Astoundingly, it is a triumph, hazy and haunting, proof that even at their worst, R.E.M. are one of the greats. (NG)

R.E.M. - Accelerate

“Living Well Is The Best Revenge” (2008)

It seemed as if Stipe and company were determined not to make a record that could be easily dismissed with 2008’s Accelerate. Perhaps the album’s opening cut “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” hinted at that, despite it and most of the rest of the album being overtly targeted at the current political regime and the state of the nation. The call-to-arms of Document was alive and well, and the music flowed freely through this. The way “Finest Worksong” invited its listener to rise up against the oppressor, “Living Well” does the same, with an even mightier fist and rockier hook. Accelerate is about as close as R.E.M. has ever come to producing a punk record, and despite it lacking some of the extroverted elements of one, its formula of speaking out against “the man” and its brief 35 minute length suggest it may be more tongue-in-cheek punk, something much more apt for the band. (JL)

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

“Mine Smell Like Honey” (2011)

It feels apt to end things with a dumb but fun rock n’ roll song, one that feels like we’ve almost come full circle to the early days of R.E.M.. “Dig a hole/dig it deeper/climb a mountain/climb it steeper”. There’s no insight to be gained here. It’s just one big amped up harmony-chasing gallop, with all three members weighing in and enjoying every second of it. In hindsight, Collapse Into Now was the perfect album for R.E.M. to bow out with. You could argue Peaches presence, but as with past left-of-centre collaborators (KRS-1, Q-Tip) it just adds to Collapse‘s character. Try to listen to this track and not remember how much fun R.E.M. were. (CS)

Contributors: Craig Smith (CS), Jonathan Langer (JL), and Nathan Goldman (NG)

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2 Responses »

  1. Craig, thanks for going out on “Mine Smell Like Honey”. Definitely the album’s best.

  2. Better to go out with a bang than a whimper.

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