This week our resident rock blogger bemoans the demise of a band rarely (no, make that never) featured on the rushonrock pages.
But then Self Made Man can write what he likes…and normally does. Right here, every week.
REM remind me of The Who. Not so much in the music they churn out but in their enduring appeal.
The band from Georgia may have lost their mantle as the best band in the world, a title liberally bestowed on them in the early-90s following the release of Automatic For The People.
But they bow out as arguably the least unpopular band around.
A bit like The Who really. I don’t know anyone who absolutely hates The Who and it’s the same with REM.
You might not own a record by The Who but everyone likes two or three of their songs _ My Generation, I’m A Boy, Pinball Wizard, Won’t Get Fooled Again. Take your pick.
And show me anyone who hates listening to at least a couple of Everybody Hurts, Man On The Moon, Losing My Religion or Shiny Happy People and I’ll point out they’re either tone deaf or have very peculiar music tastes.
REM are perhaps the only band whose songs are played on Radio One, Radio Two, BBC Radio Six and Planet Rock.
Articles on Michael Stipe and co can be round in NME, Mojo, Q, Uncut and Classic Rock.
REM are mainstream and cool. Safe but leftfield. Melodic and cutting edge.
Out and out rockers enjoy listening to their music but they’re also pure pop, admired as much by those whose CD collections include Westlife, Take That and The Sugarbabes as 40-somethings like myself whose library begins with AC/DC and Aerosmith rather than Abba and All Saints.
REM probably wouldn’t describe themselves as either rock or pop. Their image _ and that of openly gay frontman Stipe especially – always lacked the stereotypical machismo of the rock quartet while lyrically and musically, they pushed out boundaries and explored areas outside pop’s parameters.
Last week’s announcement that after 30 years, REM have called it a day has led to an outpouring of tributes but also some lazy conclusions about the band’s musical output.
It is true that in terms of album sales, they peaked with the release of Automatic For The People.
And perhaps the retirement of drummer Bill Berry around the millennium meant they were destined never to recapture former glories.
But it would be an oversimplification to suggest their career path markedly declined in the wake of their magnus opus, an album any band in the world would have struggled to match.
Just as it would be inaccurate to argue they hit a creative peak only after signing the lucrative deal with Warner, which projected them into the superstar category.
For the record, I’d put early albums Document and Life’s Rich Pageant on a par with the more high profile AFTP and Green and better than Out Of Time.
After Automatic, REM deliberately chose to head off in a rockier, less accessible direction with the heavier sound of Monster, a record panned by critics and ignored by many of their new-found fans but a record which still included outstanding material such as What’s The Frequency Kenneth and Crush With Eyeliner.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi which followed is my personal favourite, my only criticism being that it is probably a track or two too long.
Both Up and Reveal, released either side of Berry’s departure, have their moments but like their predecessor, some quality control was perhaps required. Less sometimes can mean more.
Had Around The Sun been ruthlessly edited, it would have come out as an EP. Unquestionably their worst album, it opens with two fine tracks in Leaving New York and Electron Blue and then, with the notable exception of Wanderlust, degenerates into forgettable mediocrity.
By 2004, REM’s obituary was being prematurely scripted but what turned out to be their final two albums proved welcome returns to form. Accelerate was retro in the sense it evoked memories of their 80s work and this year’s Collapse Into Now is similarly upbeat, forceful and in your face with good tunes underpinning the sound.
Michael Stipe, Peter Buick and Mike Mills may not have bowed out at the very, very top but nor had they become a creative vaccuum.
They will be missed by rockers, popsters, housewives and bohemians alike. And that perhaps is their finest achievement.