Thanks for the Memories, 



Thanks for the Memories, R.E.M., 
December 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 8, Music
2011: Thanks for the Memories, R.E.M. by Matt Foster
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But had R.E.M. quit in ’98, I’d not have had the life-affirming Walk Unafraid or the sleazy, weirdo Lotus. I’d have missed The Lifting, a bath of electronic whirrs and pulses that still gives me shivers or hell, even, a personal favourite, Electron Blue from the 2004 critical and commercial low-point Around the Sun. The hits dried up (or rather, they stopped trying to make any) and the album quality varied as the band got older, less cool and Peter Buck got arrested for hurling yoghurt at an air hostess. But strangely, the last decade of their career made R.E.M. seem, to me, more human.
Imagine the alternative. Buoyed by the success of Automatic for the People, a lesser band would have repeated it until the end of time, churning out rehashes and becoming another U2. R.E.M. just kept trying to do something different, retreating back to cult status seemingly unconcerned about what anyone else thought. The final double-punch of Accelerate and Collapse into Now were as close as they got to nostalgia, or a ‘return to form’, proving that if they really wanted to, they could just be R.E.M.
They spent most of their three decades messing up or masking their signature sound, running from themselves and playing with audience expectations, doing the only thing they ever knew how to do, all while being thoroughly solid guys, lifelong friends and gracious performers. 31 years, 15 records, and maybe two that I wouldn’t pick up for a regular spin. That’s a pretty remarkable legacy to leave.
So, as my CDs head off to a warehouse to be flogged for a much higher price than I paid for them, and as a nagging voice in my head says, as I get older, music might be starting to mean just that little bit less, I will keep that stack of crystal clear memories, beautiful tunes and the knowledge that, for a few years, music was what I got up for. Thanks, R.E.M., for carrying on and for being a massive part of that. All the best.
Two significant music-fan things happened to me today: I sold my entire CD collection – 250 plus – to save money for the new life I’m about to start as a grown-up in London. And R.E.M. split up. It feels like something’s passed.
It’s popular to trash R.E.M. for carrying on after original drummer Bill Berry left in 1998, but I can’t do it. After the success of Automatic for the People, I think a lot of people fashioned an imaginary R.E.M., one who had always created faultless records, who had arrived fully formed in 1991 with Losing my Religion and a desire to conquer the world. But Out of Time, their breakthrough LP that that massive international hit is drawn from, was their seventh. They’d toured for a decade, released a record a year, worked themselves to the bone and reinvented themselves with every record before they cracked it. They deserved success.
And let’s not forget, they were fucking weird. Singer Michael Stipe made no sense on first listen, if you could even hear him. Bassist Mike Mills refused to lock his instrument into predictable patterns, Peter Buck didn’t ‘do’ solos, and Bill Berry the drummer (yes, the drummer) was a stunning melodist. They were, in so many ways, the most unlikely band to ever make it big, growing and shifting as fans listened along, refusing to stand still.
Berry leaving the band after New Adventures in Hi-Fi (a sprawling, on-tour record that still stands tall in their catalogue today) could have so easily been the end. It would have been neat and it would have ‘secured their legacy’. The promo shots with three members must have looked all wrong to fans who grew up with the four-piece. The alien noises of the sluggish (but hugely pretty) Up were not the R.E.M. of Shiny Happy People or Everybody Hurts. Finally, R.E.M. sucked! An indie band who’d dared to dream big were finally impeachable. Sharpen the knives.
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Matt Foster is a freelancer, former NME and Independent on Sunday intern.
As the band announce their split,
Matt Foster defends late-period R.E.M.
and praises a band who always
did it their way