Band Review: R.E.M.

My first real memory of R.E.M. was hearing “The One I Love” on the radio back in 1987. I was in seventh grade at the time, and I fell in love with the song instantly. In fact, it’s still my favorite R.E.M. song of all-time. Sonically, it sounded different from everything else I was hearing on the radio, and the emotion and intensity of Michael Stipe’s vocal performance somehow managed to connect with me. Then, I remember hearing “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” While I didn’t like this one nearly as much as “The One I Love,” I still could appreciate it. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is one of those songs that has really grown on me over time.

When I was in eighth grade, R.E.M. released the Green album. At the time, I hated the song “Stand,” which was the big single off the album. Back then, I thought it was a rather stupid and lame song. Of course, the video for the song probably didn’t help with my impression of it. By the time I was in college, though, I found a much greater appreciation for “Stand,” and I actually like it now. I remember liking “Orange Crush” and “Pop Song 89” when they were released as singles, and being disappointed that they didn’t find the success that “Stand” did.

I was in the tenth grade when R.E.M. released Out of Time and its lead-off single, “Losing My Religion.” This is a song I fell in love with instantly, and I actually bought the CD just to get this particular song. I think, having just turned sixteen at the time the single was released, that I was just at the right age to have an understanding of and an appreciation for a song like “Losing My Religion.” I would have to say that it’s probably my second favorite song, right behind “The One I Love.” This was followed by “Shiny Happy People,” which featured Kate Pierson from the B-52’s. This is one of those songs that has been derided a bit over the years, but it’s one I liked at the time, and I admit to still liking it now. I also liked “Radio Song,” R.E.M.’s collaboration with rapper KRS-One. Unfortunately, the song never did well at radio; I think that was due to the fact that the song had lines deriding radio DJs. I also liked the song “Texarkana,” and was disappointed that it wasn’t released as a single.

R.E.M. released their next album, Automatic for the People, during my senior year of high school. My favorite song off of this album is “Everybody Hurts.” The song and the music video were both very poignant to me. About a year before the single was released, I lost a friend to suicide, and I was personally going through a point in my life of feeling hurt. “Everybody Hurts” would have to be my third favorite R.E.M. song. Other songs I like from the album are “Drive,” “Man On The Moon,” and “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.”

During my second year of college, R.E.M. released the album. On this particular album, there was much less focus on the mandolin and acoustic-sounding instruments, which gave this album a very different sound. While it’s not one of my favorite R.E.M. albums, I still enjoy “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?,” “Bang And Blame,” and “Strange Currencies.” About a year later, my husband introduced me to R.E.M.’s earlier material. I developed an appreciation for R.E.M.’s earlier material, especially songs such as “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” “Fall On Me,” and “Superman.”

Unfortunately, my interest in R.E.M. began to wane in 1996, after hearing the song “E-Bow The Letter.” By this point in their career, I felt that R.E.M. seemed to somehow lose touch with the “magic” that had made their music special. While sonically, I can tell the more recent material is by R.E.M., there’s still something “missing.” In my opinion, what’s missing is the passion that you could hear in the band’s earlier material.

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