Tuesday, June 05, 2007

FBO: 'The Deconstruction of REM'

We've alluded to this before -- that REM was the USA's great alternative hope of the '80s, cordially bouting with Europe's own alternative hope, U2. The results are painfully obvious to see, for the American-centric music fans in us all: U2 by a KO.

Consider these facts:

REM made a few good albums -- 'Murmur' (1983), 'Reckoning' (1984), 'Fables of the Reconstruction' (1985), 'Life's Rich Pageant' (1986) **ed note: remember when bands made albums every year?** and debatably (very) 'Document' (1987). By their first major-label release, the patchy 'Green' (1988), REM lost its edge. By the still-enigmatic power-fuzzy 'Monster' (1994) the singles stopped being hits, and the band slid into horrible sludge it's never shown any sense of rebounding from.

Of REM's 12 or so studio albums, only four are very good. That means 66% of their original work has been questionable. In a 25-year career, 20 years are marred with suspicious output. That's a seriously unimpressive track record.


--> Mike Mills' Ego
The smart dork in the classroom, a Paul McCartney without the talent, suddenly found his confidence, right before the penultimate song in a fairly remarkable 'Unplugged' peformance for MTV in 1991. Michael Stipe said, before they started 'It's the End of the World As We Know It', something like 'we have one more song for you,' and the audience 'ahhhed'. Mike Mills chipped in: 'Oh, we can stop now if you like?' This generated much doting, polite laughter. And Mike Mills took note. By the time the awful 'Automatic for the People' came out, with burgeoned confidence, he had long bleached hair, was wearing cowboy suits, and his back-ups seemed even higher in the mix.

--> Michael Stipe's Ego
Stipe was his best when he was down in the mix, slurring his words, with lyrics that skirted the meaning -- leaving what he was talking about a 'best guess.' Compare the 'acid rain' anthem 'Fall on Me' (1986) with 'Everybody Hurts' (1992) which has about the subtlety of a punch to the groin. Somewhere, Stipe got his confidence -- we don't have the exact location but it likely involves a successful MTV awards or his bad haircut from the 'Green' tour.

--> Pete Buck's Laziness
Long a liar -- note the photo of him playing piano on the back of 'Reckoning' (1984), or hear his repeated claims that the next album 'doesn't have any guitar'; both lies -- Buck's worst offense is that he just doesn't try anymore. Take 'Everybody Hurts,' where he goes for a blues slow-pick to telegraph the 'sad' tone of the song's listeners. Where are the 'Seven Chinese Brothers'?

--> Departure of Bill Berry
REM's only infallible, almost critique-proof member -- Bill Berry -- left the band in 1997 after suffering a brain aneuryrsm. The band has never been the same.

If you think REM deserve props, and its recent induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, and believe REM is tops...

--> Compare U2's 'One' (1991) with REM's 'Everybody Hurts' (1992) -- The winner in these partner testaments to soaring emotion, 'One' is an anthem of reconciliation amidst differences, the other is included in mockery in movies and films when an over-sensitive character breaks down (eg The Simpsons, The Office (US), 'Bewitched').

--> REM copies Canada's great trio Rush on acid rain. Rush sung about it on songs like 'Distant Early Warning' in 1984. REM's 'Fall on Me' came out a year later.

The FBO asks
either that REM apologizes for 'lacking luster' in the past 20 years -- seriously they had five good ones, and 20 dodgy ones -- OR to return the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame ribbon to Cleveland. Their choice, which.

FBO Admin
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY


Anonymous said...

I would change "The FBO asks" to "The FBO demands". Otherwise, pure genius.


tom caw said...

To paraphrase Bob Bob Bob's comments regarding Eric Clapton: we don't want to hurt you REM, we just need you to stop.

Hiser said...

Bill is not without crime. Although I respect his artistic originality, the guy has some serious tempo problems. If you have ever seen him live you know this. He had to have used a click track in the studio, or the producer spent a lot of time "correcting tracks".