R.E.M. Album Reviews

R.E.M. emerged in the wake of punk, and started their career as an insular Indie band, with cryptic albums that enjoyed a cult following. But gradually they beefed up their sound, experienced airplay, signed up to a major label, and became one of the most successful bands in the world.

More than most bands, all four members of R.E.M. were important – Michael Stipe was the most recognisable figure as the frontman and lyricist, and his voice was distinctive and adaptable. Guitarist Peter Buck gave them their signature sound with his pretty arpeggiated guitar, which was always compared to Roger McGuinn’s work in The Byrds. Along with Buck, the rhythm section contributed heavily to song composition; Mike Mills’ harmony vocals and melodic basslines were also an important part of the ensemble sound, while drummer Bill Berry contributed the music for some of the band’s best known songs like ‘Man On The Moon’ and ‘Everybody Hurts’.

Bill Berry left the band before 1998’s Up; losing a member of the original quartet disturbed their peculiar synergy and they were never quite the same. R.E.M. released four more albums after 1998’s Up, which I haven’t covered below. I don’t think they ever disgraced themselves, although 2004’s Around The Sun is probably their least highly regarded album, but they arguably diminished their legacy by outstating their welcome.

R.E.M.’s five albums for IRS Records are all very strong; albums like Murmur and Lifes Rich Pageant are classics of 1980s college rock. While their major label albums were less consistent, all of their 1990s’ albums have some very strong material, and they produced one very strong album with 1992’s acoustic and gloomy Automatic for the People. Their 1990s’ catalogue is also notably more diverse than their work in the 1980s.

Ten Favourite R.E.M. Songs

Find The River
What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
Fall On Me
Losing My Religion
Shaking Through
Flowers of Guatemala
The One I Love
Orange Crush
Maps and Legends