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REM - the Band

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The band REM was formed in 1980 and is still going strong today. The early albums are dense and richly-textured with strong elements of folk, while the later Life's Rich Pageant and Document show signs of a drift towards a more rock-flavoured sound. By the time of Green and Out of Time, they were experimenting with sparser arrangements, string sections and eclectic instruments such as mandolins. They followed up their most successful album, Automatic For the People, with Monster, a back-to-basics hard rock collection. After the departure of drummer Bill Berry, in 1997, the new album Up saw a move into electronica, with keyboards and drum loops to the fore.

Though their sound has come a long way in 20 years, constants throughout have been their complex layered harmonies and studious avoidance of rock clich├ęs. Frontman Stipe's allusive, elliptical lyrics, all delivered by a voice that ranges from soulman growl to soothing croon and all points between, have been instrumental in winning them their legions of die-hard fans.

The Band

  • Bill Berry: Drums, backing vocals - left to drive tractors, 1997.

  • Peter Buck: Guitar, mandolin, banjo, bazouki - anything with strings, though hasn't yet succeeded in playing a tennis racket.

  • Mike Mills: Bass, backing vocals, keyboards, flamboyant suits.

  • Michael Stipe: Vocals, impenetrable lyrics, and inscrutable strangeness.

Discography

  • Murmur - IRS, 1983
  • Reckoning - IRS, 1984
  • Fables of the Reconstruction - IRS, 1985
  • Life's Rich Pageant - IRS, 1986
  • Document No.5 - IRS, 1987
  • Green - Warner, 1988
  • Out of Time - Warner, 1991
  • Automatic For the People - Warner, 1992
  • Monster - Warner, 1994
  • New Adventures in Hi-Fi - Warner, 1996
  • Up - Warner, 1998

Singles

Far too many to list, but special mention should be made of the Chronic Town EP - IRS, 1982.

Unmissable Moments

  • Nightswimming and Find the River - from Automatic For the People. The rippling piano figure on Nightswimming, Find the River's heart-breaking keyboard motif; over it all Stipe paints a picture of nostalgia, heartbreak and loss - then he takes us to the river and shows us it'll be OK.

  • Fall on Me - from Life's Rich Pageant. A deceptively simple Stipe lead vocal (a 'Chicken Little' thing about the sky falling on his head) masks gorgeous layered harmonies from Mills and Berry. The real meaning of the song's is Mills's backing line - unfortunately it's so quiet most people don't even know it's there...

  • E-Bow the Letter - from New Adventures in Hi-Fi. A five-minute meditation on childhood, fame, drugs and, erm, aluminium. Patti Smith's doomy backing vocals couldn't be better suited to Stipe's haunted, haunting delivery.

Must Buy

Automatic For the People. A regular on best-album-of-all-time charts, and still their most consistent and rewarding album. If you've already got it, get New Adventures in Hi-Fi - adored by the critics, but shamefully ignored by the record-buying public.

Further Information

The band's official website is something of a triumph of design over content, but it's well worth a look. If only to see Michael Stipe wearing donkey ears.

Murmurs.com seems to have become the 'official' outlet for REM news these days. Excellent discussion group, plus various FAQs and a collection of REM lyrics - pretty much an essential given Stipe's tendency to mumble.


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