I find R.E.M.'s discography to be fascinating. It's most likely because I have really liked their music for most of my life, but their discography is very interesting to me. It's full of experimentation, whether it be ideas that really worked or ideas that didn't work at all, and through this experimentation they still maintained the "R.E.M. sound." What makes their changes in sound most interesting is they were always a working band. They longest they went between albums releases was four years, between "Around the Sun" and "Accelerate," and in a span of seven years released five albums (this was at their peak by the way...when they could have toured and counted their money instead of making new music) that went from pop-rock, acoustic-rock, grunge, a road album, and finally their attempt at being Radiohead. It's a bi-polar discography, especially considering they spent most of the 80's as the typical college band that made it big.
It's a cliche to say they
spent most of their career going against the grain. It's also not true,
but they were making jangle rock in the 80's when hair band music was
popular and spent part of the 90's pulling what I call the "Rolling
Stones fuck you we can do what you do better than how you do it" move. What I mean by that
is the Stones (in my opinion) had a habit of taking a popular form of
music during an era and putting out an album that shows they can do that
music better. The Stones put our "Some Girls" which was an obvious
answer to disco and the sort of New York punk rock at the time, they
answered the country rock trend in the late 1960's/early 1970's with a
string of four albums that were as good as anything "real" country rock
bands put out, and of course there was the "Satanic Majesties Request"
album which wasn't that great and was a friendly answer to the Beatles
R.E.M. was sort of drifting and
doing their own thing with "Out of Time" and "Automatic for the People"
when the grunge phenomenon hit. They decided it was time to put out
their rock album they had promised for years and showed they could do
grunge pretty well too. They then tried to combine their early 90's
sound with the grunge sound on the next album to mixed results. Then in
1998 after their drummer, Bill Berry, left the band they decided they
would do some electronic-sounding music like Radiohead was putting out
at the time and I fell asleep so I'm not sure how that ended up (I'm
kidding). It was pretty fucking dreary. So in a nutshell this is what
makes R.E.M.'s discography so interesting to me, that they spent part of
their career chasing what was popular in mainstream, another part going
away from what was popular, but started out creating a sound that would
become popular in the mainstream. Any time I listen to early Strokes
albums I feel like I can hear the R.E.M. influence in the way the guitar
sounds and how the vocals are unintelligible.
figured because R.E.M.'s discography was so interesting and varied I
would rank the albums. #1 was the easiest one for me. It's one of my "desert island" albums. The rest weren't so easy because some albums had
really high peaks with filler and other albums had fewer high peaks but
less filler. That's probably true for nearly every album I guess. So
here goes. I'm going in reverse order until I get to the R.E.M. album I
consider to be #1. I rank these albums essentially in order of which
albums I would most want to hear from the first to the last track. How
good is the album as a whole if I am tied to a chair and forced to
listen to the whole thing? That's how I rank them. It's all relative too. A low-ranked R.E.M.
album is better than some other bands' high-ranked album.
These Albums Just Aren't Good
15. Around the Sun
Oh, this album. It's easy to tell in retrospect when a band's album is
probably the worst. When band members are like, "Oh yeah, we almost
broke up after making that album" or "We specifically made further
albums before breaking up to prove that we were better than this album."
Those were paraphrased quotes from R.E.M. members about "Around the
Sun." Oh, and Peter Buck (the guitarist) said "it wasn't listenable" and
they were "bored with the material." That's the material THEY WROTE by
the way. So yes, this album deserves to be in the very bottom of any
R.E.M. album list based on these quotes alone. Unfortunately, the music
backs up these quotes.
I think the song titles on this
album are a meta-criticism of the music they were making. Some of the
song titles are Make it All Ok, The Final Straw, I Wanted to be Wrong,
Boy in the Well, High Speed Train, and the Worst Joke Ever.
those titles aren't the sign of a band crying out for help then I don't
know what titles would be. To be fair, Leaving New York and Electron
Blue are decent songs, but this album just isn't very good overall. It's
a slog, it's slow and the song writing isn't as crisp as any other
album in their catalog. It's the typical late-career album where a band
simply is mailing it in. There's very little crispness and fight in the
songs, which aren't characteristic of an R.E.M. album and probably is a
reason why their next album came out with songs that are fast and punch
hard immediately. I would like to talk more in-depth about this album
but there's really not much to say. It's a drag and if anyone starts
their R.E.M. collection with this album then they will never understand
what's great about the band. It's like handing a copy of "Undercover" to
someone who wants to hear a Rolling Stones album or give someone
looking to get into Bon Jovi a copy of any album they have made in the
last 20 years.
(Though as an aside, I almost always
recommend a certain band's second-best album to those looking to get
into that band. I learned that lesson from buying a band's best album
and then buying their other albums only to be disappointed the other
albums don't measure up to that one. If you recommend a band's
second-best album then it's still good, but there is somewhere to go but
up from there...speaking of "Up")
It's interesting this album is called
"Up" since it's the first R.E.M. album that really was "down." What I
mean by that (and not just being cutesy) is this is the first R.E.M.
album without Bill Berry and the first album that consists of slower
songs which tend to meander. This album isn't bad, but it's clearly the
sign of a band that is lost. They tried to be Radiohead and use some
more electronica in their sound. They even hired Radiohead's producer to
work on the album. The problem is Radiohead may not always play upbeat
music but playing weird electronica isn't what R.E.M. does well. What
comes off as creative when done by Radiohead comes off as meandering and
aimless when done by R.E.M. It's not a criticism of them, because if
Radiohead tried to do jangle pop or an album of mostly acoustic tunes I
don't believe they could pull it off.
frustrating about "Up" is even the good songs on the album sound like
R.E.M. trying to sound like someone else. Daysleeper is a mid-tempo song
that sounds like R.E.M. doing a cover of an R.E.M. song, At My Most
Beautiful is a rip-off of a Beach Boys song and sound without adding
anything that makes it sound like R.E.M., while Lotus again sounds like
an outtake from "Monster." The amount of aimlessness on this album is
astounding and I chalk it up completely to Bill Berry's absence. R.E.M.
always had a very collaborative approach to music and without a
permanent drummer it seems the urge to let the songs wander overcame
them. Songs 6-14 consist entirely of wandering music that doesn't seem
to know when to end. One of my favorites on the album, Why Not Smile,
would have been perfect as a sub-3:00 minute melancholy tune, but
instead has a fade out that lasts for almost a minute and a half.
like the band decided there's really no need for instrumentation and
they would just let Michael Stipe's voice carry them. No offense to
Stipe, but he's a great vocalist in the concept of a band (which is why I
give him total credit for never going solo...he gets that he's great
because the people behind him are great and he can't carry a band by
himself, which is a lesson Richard Ashcroft had to learn the hard way)
and a focus on his vocals helps the listener recognize the lyrics aren't
always strong and focused. It's amazing how a little instrumentation
can make average vocals sound better (see: Van Halen during the David
Lee Roth era) and while Stipe is certainly not a weak vocalist or
songwriter, an entire album of his thoughts without a strong melody
starts to call out his weaknesses as a songwriter.
The Highlights Don't Overshadow the Lowlights
recognize the next three albums probably are people's favorite albums
or there is a belief they should not be ranked so low. It's just how I
feel. I like "Green." I really do. There is some strong material on here
that looks great on a Greatest Hits album or stands alone as a single.
It's just taken as a whole, there is a lot of filler, and put all
together the album isn't as strong as some of the individual highlights.
It's difficult to explain. I like many of these songs individually, but
when put together they sound very fluffy and meaningless, which isn't
something a strong R.E.M. album should sound like. I think this record
was intended as a reaction to the more political and focused "Document." Except,
this album was political too. It's a weird dichotomy to go from light
pop ditties to songs about war and Agent Orange.
of the first four songs are the simple pop ditties that I enjoy, but
are also the reason I wouldn't consider this to be a great album. Stand,
Get Up, and Pop Song '89 are good tunes but not the sort of tune I want
to hear followed by a few more political songs. It was like the band
was saying, "Hey, we are political but we can be fun too!" and they
never quite got the combination right. This was their first major label
release so I'm sure Warner Brothers probably didn't get a hard-on for a
bunch of songs about war and vague-sounding critics of politicians. They
wanted "It's the End of the World As We Know It" because that's a fun
fucking song. Do that again! So they did try. But being a band that likes to
control their own destiny they also put World Leader Pretend, Orange
Crush, and Turn You Inside-Out on the album as well.
highlights of this album, which I consider to be 7 of the 11 tracks,
should overshadow the lowlights and move this album up in my rankings,
but they don't flow for me. The album was originally going to be a side
of harder material and a side of softer material (this plan was thrown
out) and what resulted was an album where it wasn't entirely clear what
the band wanted to be. The second side of the album is a great example
of this problem and that's where most of the filler from this album
comes from. The first side doesn't flow well for me and the second side
is filled with filler. Maybe better sequencing would have corrected this
(for example, I've always hated Orange Crush being the 7th track, it
seems the track was buried there in order to prevent listeners from just
rewinding the first side constantly), but the individual tracks don't
make a great album.
12. Out of Time
I have an incredibly difficult
time being impartial about "Out of Time." It sold over 18 million
copies, so clearly someone liked it, but it absolutely drives me crazy.
The entire album does. You can tell by now I don't like R.E.M. albums
without a central theme, but "Out of Time" is the worst of the worst and
the only reason it's ranked above "Green" is because the best tracks on
this album are some of the best stuff the band has ever written, even
though there is less of it. This album was R.E.M.'s attempt to be a
strong pop band and it worked. There are five songs on this album that
would have fit in perfectly with "Automatic for the People" and are
indicative of the band's strengths and then there is stuff like Radio Song,
Shiny Happy People, Me in Honey, Low, and Endgame that I consider to be
pretty much shit songs that only serve to get the band on the radio and
speak to the lowest common denominator.
is Losing My Religion, Country Feedback, Near Wild Heaven, Texarkana,
and Half a World Away that are some of the best songs that the band has
ever written. Tracks 8-10 (Half a World Away, Texarkana, and Country
Feedback) are one of the strongest three song stretches in the band's
catalog and sets up the band for their (spoiler alert) masterpiece album
that came out a year later. It's good music and highlights the band's
ability to create atmosphere in a song. Not coincidentally, two of the
tracks on this album are sung by the underrated Mike Mills and he does a
bang-up job with both of them. The highs on this album are really high,
but there is some junk to be waded through in order to get there.
line that begins Half a World, "This could be saddest dusk I've ever
seen, turn to marigold..." and the ad-libbing of Country Feedback where
Stipe ends up repeating "It's crazy what you could've had, I need
this..." over and over just can't make up for the pop crap of Shiny
Happy People and Radio Song (which is probably why some people bought
the album). "Out of Time" is a great example of how the best music
doesn't necessarily mean album sales. If someone started an R.E.M.
collection with this album it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world,
but I have a feeling after some time the bloom would be off this rose.
11. Fables of the Reconstruction
This was the
second R.E.M. album I ever purchased. I still don't think I completely
get this album. It's not bad, there's just not a lot of great songs on
the album and there is an overall feeling of drab to the album. It's
definitely a more experimental album for them and was probably worth
recording simply so the band could start to test the limits of their
sound. Feeling Gravity's Pull is a slow, weird way to start off the
album. It's not a death-knell to start an album off with a slow song,
but it's almost five minutes long and doesn't feel like it necessarily
The middle portion of the album like Drive 8, Life and How to Live It, Green Grow the Rushes Grow, and Can't Get There From Here are the highlight of the album. Again, this
is a grading scale that acknowledges this is basically R.E.M. albums
being compared to each other. It seems like there are 4-5 really good
songs on the album and the rest are just album filler that aren't some
of my favorite tracks. The energy wasn't quite there on this album and
this may be due to the increased use of different instruments not
melding well with the band's sound. It could also be "the difficult
third album" effect where bands want to do something different on a
third album and aren't quite sure exactly how to take their sound in a
There is a dark tone to this album
that I'm not sure the band was entirely able to work into the confines
of their current sound. They did a much better job on the next album and
on future albums in taking a different sound and trying to put together
a group of songs that aren't loud, but aren't dreary.
The Album That's Not Overly Bad, Just Hard to Get Through
10. New Adventures in HiFi
album frustrates the shit out of me. It's a long album at almost 66
minutes and seems to be the band's attempt at a "road record." The
problem is it's a road record that stays around too long and has a
tremendous amount of filler on it. Unlike Jackson Browne's "Running on
Empty" where he seemed inspired by being on the road, R.E.M. seems just
tired and the songs reflect it. Of course they had just gotten off the
"Monster" tour (where I saw them in Charlotte) and everybody in the band
seemed to have gotten sick at one point or another, so there's a good
chance they were tired. It's not good to put out a road album where the
songs seem weary from the road trip and the songs become a slog due to
There's a lot being juggled on this album. The songs are a step back
from the reverb-feedback sounding "Monster," but still contains the
basic sound on some tracks, while also trying to get some of the mellow
vibe the band had on "Automatic for the People," all while writing a
road album. It's too much. So what results is an album of good songs,
but it runs out of steam and even the good songs hang around too much. I
love E-bow the Letter but does it have to be over 5 minutes long? The
synthesizer effect on Leave is great, but 7 minutes of it isn't so
great. New Test Leper has Michael Stipe singing in an octave below his
normal voice (either that or he is really, really tired...and he sounds
really, really tired) but it goes long as well. It does have a good
This would have been a much better album if
the tracks were cut down into a real road album and the sequencing were
changed. Here's the track listing I would have chosen for this album:
1. Leave (cut it down to below 7 minutes)
2. New Test Leper (cut it down)
3. Wake Up Bomb
4. E-Bow the Letter (again, cut it down a bit)
5. Bittersweet Me
6. How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us
8. Be Mine
9. So Fast, So Numb
shorter and even if the songs aren't cut down the album won't be such a
drag to get through. I thought Leave would have been a great way to
start the album and Electrolite is a great way to end the album. It's
just there is too much mediocre music that takes too much time to listen
to. It's just not a fun album to go all the way through.
9. Collapse Into Now
This was the band's last
album and it's not a good thing and it's not a bad thing. They went out
like a lot of bands probably would like to go out, on an album that
wasn't terrible to where it messed up their legacy, but also wasn't such
a great album they felt the need to prove they are still on the top of
their game. The band knew they were going to break up and made this
album with the full knowledge this would be the last time they cut an
album of new material together. Of course this album got all the typical
reviews that contain quotes like, "Not their best, but they still have
life" and "It's not Album X, but it's certainly really good." It seems
all older bands get those medium-type reviews that don't bash the new
album, while also acknowledging it's not as good as the old material.
anything, this is a good album that only serves to remind the listener
that there isn't a great track on the album. Therefore, it's hard for me
to listen to the album despite the fact it's a consistently good album.
You know how on certain albums there is a song or two (or three...or
four...) you can't wait to hear? Well, this album lacks a song like
that. So it's an album of really good music (Discoverer, All the
Best, It Happened Today, and Mine Smell Like Honey) and the band
still has an edge to it lacking from much of the late 90's and early
2000's material, it's still just an album of pretty good songs. It
sounds crazy to write, since I put this as the 9th best album, but there
are really no bad songs on this album. There's nothing shockingly
embarrassing like "Out of Time" has, but there are also no great songs
in the form of Electrolite. These songs if put on an album with any of
the albums ranked above it would just be good songs on a good album.
that's why I say it's hard to get through this album. It's good enough
to listen to, not so bad you want to turn it off, but it mostly reminds
you that R.E.M. still makes good music. Unfortunately, I don't see any
great music on this album and that is the problem. An entire album of
good, listenable music isn't a great album in this case.
The Ironically Titled Album
was a "return to form" album for R.E.M. They had just made "Around the
Sun," which was embarrassingly bad. They were getting older and probably
didn't want to get into the "Dylan in the 80's" period of the band's
career where they sold records off a good single or two and the brand
name of the band. Plus, Michael Stipe is really liberal and George W.
Bush was good for more liberal, political-minded songwriters to use for a
muse. This was an exciting album at the time because it was the sign of
the band being aggressive, loud and alive again. Seven years later some
of that perspective is lost because "Around the Sun" is now a decade
old and R.E.M. is broken up.
The album title is
ironic because this album accelerates out of the game strongly with six
really good songs in a row that have Mike Mills on background vocals and
Michael Stipe spitting out lyrics from the outset of the album. It only
slows down a little at the beginning of Hollow Man and then the pace
picks up again. It's good, strong material, especially the first track Living Well is the Best Revenge, where towards the end of the song it
seems Mike Mills' background vocals are simply trying to keep up with
the pace of the song. Then Until the Day is Done begins and the rest
of the album slows down and isn't as strong. It accelerated out of gate
and then slows down into filler and songs that aren't as strong. This
album is like a runner who is running a 10K who spends all of his energy
on getting the lead in the first four miles and has no energy left to
stay in the lead until the end.
There is a song called Sing for the Submarine which refers to a song from Around the Sun, Electron Blue. Why? I'm not sure. Then the album closes out with a
song that, for me, is another silly song that I thought the band
wouldn't record at this point in their career, I'm Gonna DJ. This song
contains the lyrics:
"Death is pretty final,
I'm collecting vinyl,
'Cause if heaven does exist with a kicking playlist,
I don't want to miss it at the end of the world."
then "I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world" is repeated over and over again.
It's just not a great track. This is an album that proves R.E.M. can
still write good music, but there's always some filler on their albums.
If this were a seven track CD then there wouldn't be a weak track, but
the way the album slows down after track 6 is very disconcerting.
The Highlights Do Overshadow the Lowlights
I was younger, I did not understand the politics behind this album.
It's pretty damn political all the way through. They managed to include
horns and a synthesizer on a song or two. I partly think this album came
out of their attempts to vary their sound a bit more on "Fables of the
Reconstruction" except they were a little more upbeat this time and the
songwriting was much stronger. It's a more inspired album, mostly
because the band was pissed off at Ronald Reagan (see? Republican
presidents are good for songwriting) and the direction he was taking the
I tend to blame It's the End of the
World World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine) for a lot of the later
cutesy-songs the band tried to write. I'm probably off-base, but I feel
like that song being a hit is responsible for side 1 of "Green" and the
crap that is on parts of "Out of Time." This album has six classic
R.E.M. songs on it, including the love song that is not at all a love
song The One I Love. It's a song about using another person so I'm
pretty sure the title is to be taken ironically and not literally.
album starts off with three political songs that are only political if
you pay attention to the lyrics, and since this is R.E.M., you probably
are avoiding the lyrics a little bit since sometimes they are gibberish.
Not so in this case. There is also one of my favorite R.E.M. songs,
even though I have no idea what it's about, King of Birds, on the
second side of the album. It's a very good album that takes a certain
mood to listen to. If you want to hear R.E.M. at their kindest and most
romantic then this is not the album to do so. It's more angry and jaded
than anything else, though that's the brilliance of the band. It's angry
and jaded but the music sounds happy and not angry at all. The lyrics
are a different story of course.
On a different
tangent, since I'm a person who has different moods then it makes sense
R.E.M. has albums that can fit those moods. Sometimes I'm in the mood
for jangle-pop and can put "Reckoning," "Murmur," "Lifes Rich Pageant."
If I'm angry I put on "Accelerate" and "Document." If I want to annoy
myself with what could have been I combine "Green" and "Out of Time"
into one album without the crappy songs. If I want to hear more
introspective and atmospheric songs then "Up," "Fables of the
Reconstruction," "Automatic for the People," and "Reveal." If I want to
fall asleep, I listen to "Around the Sun." Speaking of "Reveal..."
This album deserves to be in the Hall
of Very Good, but I recognize I'm biased because I love this album so
much. There is some not-good material on here, so I have to place it at
#6 and out of the "Hall of Very Good." On a day when I'm ready to hear
the album, it's a top-3 album for me. It's moody, introspective and has a
couple tributes to the Beach Boys on it. It's a really good album,
though it's also not a very loud album. Sometimes it's hard to believe
this album was made four years after "Monster."
has what I would consider to be the quintessential R.E.M. song on it in
the form of Imitation of Life. I know, it sounds like high praise and
it is. This song has all the attributes of a great R.E.M. song all
packed into one.
1. Jangle-sounding guitar
2. Non-sensical lyrics
3. Mike Mills on background vocals where you can actually hear him
4. A chorus that sticks in your head and won't leave
5. A song title that just sounds interesting
6. Lyrics that may actually be nonsense or may actually be deep...who the fuck knows? Take it how you want.
favorite song on this album is I've Been High. It's just a beautiful
song (again, the meaning of it...I'm not sure, so take it how you want
and I do take it how I want) about a person who wants to live their life
"on high" but seems to be missing those things he wants and has
seemingly tried too hard to get someone to believe in him.
do my eyes
do my eyes seem empty?
I've forgotten how this feels.
I've been high
I've climbed so high
but life sometimes
it washes over me...
was I wrong?
I don't know, don't answer.
I just needed to believe.
I've been high
I've climbed so high
but life sometimes
it washes over me...
close my eyes so I can see
make my make believe believe
This song is seemingly the type
of song that the band was trying to make on "Up," except this song is
straight to the point in under three-and-a-half minutes. I'm a sucker
for introspection and this album has a lot of that, as well as All the
Way to Reno, which is another really great jangle-pop song. There's
also The Lifting, She Just Wants to Be, Summer Turns to High, (the
total Beach Boy tribute) Beachball, and I'll Take the Rain, which is
basically a song where the narrator says if this is happiness he is
experiencing with a person then he'll take the rain on his own (again,
how I take it). It's not the most upbeat album, but on a given day I
would put it up against nearly any other album in their catalog based on
the great songs on the album.
The Hall of Very Good
5. Lifes Rich Pageant
consider this to be a sort of transition album for R.E.M. It's got one
foot stuck in the college rock they did so well (Fall on Me, Hyena),
while also previewing the harder rock that can be found on "Document"
and "Green" (Begin the Begin, These Days), while also previewing
some of the more pop-oriented jangle-rock and acoustic numbers they
would record in the early 90's (Superman, and Swan Swan H). There
are some really great individual songs on this album.
is just a personal opinion, but it just doesn't add up to a great album
for me. I can't really describe it too well, and it's still a very good
album. It lacks cohesion for me. They are all really good songs, but it
feels scattershot when listened to all together. Maybe it's that the
album has a foot in several different sounds R.E.M. had over the years,
because the album would have sounded great in 1986, but I hear the songs
and think, "Well they did that song better on 'Monster' or I prefer the
acoustic sounds of 'Out of Time' better." It's an album of really good
songs, but they are all sort of really good songs, not exceptionally
great songs throughout the album. Therefore I can't really rate it as a
I can't ever forget the first time I
heard What's the Frequency Kenneth? on MTV. I was in love with R.E.M.
at that point and was really excited to hear their new album which
promised rock songs. The second I saw the video and heard the song I
knew I was buying the album (which I probably would have done even if I
didn't hear the song). Ready for a contradiction? This album is TOO
cohesive for me. R.E.M. promised a rock album and they delivered a rock
album with a ton of reverb, very little acoustic guitar, and loud
sounds. It's great, but it's also very consciously a glam-rock album.
have mentioned how one of R.E.M.'s strengths is they can play different
types of music and do it well while making that sound their own. They
did that here too. It lacks the masterpiece status for me because some
of the songs go on too long (which was intentional by the band) and the
songwriting just isn't strong enough to justify it being a masterpiece.
It's got a great front side and one of my favorite R.E.M. songs in Strange Currencies, but the second half tends to go too falsetto and
ramble at times. Tongue, You, and even I Took Your Name aren't my
favorite songs by the band. It's a very conscious record in that they
know they aren't sounding like R.E.M. and it only shows on a few tracks.
Tracks where it is clear Michael Stipe is doing things vocally he
hasn't normally done and the reverb gets to be too much for me. It's
those moments when I notice it's R.E.M. trying not to sound like R.E.M.
more than it is R.E.M. expanding their sound. Still, I think "Monster"
is a great album overall.
I hate to package these two albums
together, but I consider them to be the same kind of album. Like "Van
Halen I and II," Boston's self-titled album and "Don't Look Back," and a
lot of Dave Matthews Band's early output "Reckoning" and "Murmur" are
different in packaging and name only. Each of those bands added a
different sound or instrument to a track or two or in order to have some
diversity, but if you through their first two albums together it would
be hard to figure out which songs came on which album. I rank
"Reckoning" over "Murmur" only because the songs on "Reckoning" feel
like a more grown-up and expanded version of what R.E.M. recorded on
"Murmur." I love "Murmur" (obviously from the ranking of it as a
masterpiece), but the songs are a little thinner-sounding compared to
There isn't a bad song on either album
really. "Murmur" is the typical debut album from a college band that
doesn't have quite the big production and Stipe's vocals feel buried and
completely unintelligible at times. It's not a bad thing at all, but
"Reckoning" has slightly more diverse song-writing and sounds on it
while still being an obvious sequel to "Murmur." It's an album where
R.E.M. takes the sound of "Murmur" and expands on it with a more country
sound on Don't Go Back to Rockville or going straight acoustic on Time After Time. It's a stronger album for me because the production
is better, the songwriting is tighter and more focused, while the
performances are also more streamlined and don't feel like it's simply
really, really good college rock.
"Murmur" is the sound
of a great college band changing the sound of music, while "Reckoning"
is the sound of a band continuing to change the sound of music while
also changing the band's sound in small ways just to see what they are
capable of while keeping their own sound. This attempt to change went
bad at times on "Fables of the Reconstruction" and they learned from
that, but the attempt to grow while still keeping their signature sound
is what makes "Reckoning" a better album in my mind.
The Best Masterpiece
1. Automatic for the People
This is a desert
island disc for me. It can be a depressing album, so if I was stuck on a
desert island then I would probably be pretty depressed and this would
be an appropriate album, even if I didn't think it was R.E.M.'s best
album, which I do. It probably has more filler than other R.E.M. albums,
but the filler isn't bad and fits perfectly with the tone of the album.
While I wouldn't choose New Orleans Instrumental No. 1, Monty Got a
Raw Deal, Star Me Kitten, or Ignoreland as my favorite R.E.M.
songs, they fit in perfectly with this album and how it was sequenced.
The last two songs on that list (Star Me Kitten and Ignoreland) are on the back side of the album as a
preview of the sound the band would pursue on "Monster" and break up the
melancholy first side and the melancholy last couple of songs.
Orleans Instrumental No. 1 fits in wonderfully after Everybody Hurts
and before Sweetness Follows. It's an incredibly nice way to
transition between the two songs. It's not a challenging or great
instrumental, but it serves as a great outro to Everybody Hurts while
also being a good intro to Sweetness Follows. Whereas Everybody
Hurts is about holding on when times are tough, Sweetness Follows is
about the same topic, but is just a little more jaded about it. Everybody Hurts says that life sucks and sometimes you just have to
carry on (as anyone who has seen the video knows) and rarely has Michael
Stipe been this pointed with his message in a song. Sweetness Follows
is basically saying why continue carrying on with life when people you
love will die and bad things happen? It's inspirational to just carry on
while also being less uplifting than Everybody Hurts. My point is I
think the instrumental breaks up the sort of sameness and downerness of
these two songs.
So the sequencing is great to where
the songs don't have to be the best to make sense in the context of the
album. It's impeccably sequenced and the album ends with three of the
best songs on the album. It's dark, hopeful, nostalgic, depressing,
funny (The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight) and even political at times.
It's a very cohesive album with death and reacting to death in some
fashion dominating the album, but not being so dominating that it
influences the listener's thoughts about the album.
is a favorite of a lot of people, but I think I prefer Find the River
(which the opening notes sound like were nicked by Lisa Loeb on Stay)
to Nightswimming. It's a song that even Michael Stipe has said is so
personal to him that it probably doesn't carry the same meaning to
everyone else, as well it being a song the band has struggled playing
live. I have no idea what the song is about. It could be about death, it
could be about taking chances in life because at some point it all ends
(which is death) or it's just about taking life as it comes and not
trying to speed up things. It's one of my favorites on the album,
especially when he sings about "Nothing is going my way." It seems so
random since a lot of the song is more flowery and poetic imagery, while
this seems like a simple statement of frustration. It's tough to
analyze it too much I guess.
I never get tired of
"Automatic for the People." I think it's a perfect album. It's an acoustic album that doesn't feel
soft and a depressing album that doesn't always feel depressing. That
ends the overly-long list of my ranking the best and worst R.E.M.
albums. For someone who doesn't love lists I sure do write a lot of