Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Taking A Look At R.E.M.

Recently, while talking amongst some friends, someone asked me what I thought the best R.E.M. album was. And since the band has a new album scheduled to hit stores and iTunes early next year, I thought maybe I would answer that question here.

I mean, it's the day after Christmas and nothing is really going on, so why don't we have a discussion? Let's rank the best R.E.M. albums, OK.

So, without further ado, here is how I rank R.E.M.'s many offerings. Please, please, please, post your opinion, if you have one. So here we go, from worst to first.

"Reveal" (2001): This was a tough decision for me, choosing the worst record of the band's career, but I have to go with "Reveal," which just lacks cohesion. I understand the trio is going for a Beach Boys-meets-old-R.E.M. sound, but other than "Imitation of Life" and maybe one other song, this one just doesn't do it for me.

"Up" (1998): OK, so I have the most mixed feelings about "Up" as any record I've ever listened to. I can still remember when this was delivered to my college radio station a few weeks before release. I was so excited and took it back to my apartment immediately. My roommates and I listened to it straight for about two days before I put it into rotation at the station. If you asked me back in 1999 or so, I would argued on and on that this was a truly great album, regardless of critical perception. Well, when I went back and listened to the remastered, double-disc version that got sent to me a year or so ago, I just didn't like it. At all. Call it a keener critical sense, being less of a devout fan of the band ... call it whatever you want, but I'm not sold on much of "Up" anymore.

"Fables of the Reconstruction" (1985): Plain and simple, the worst of the IRS years. It's not a bad disc, but it just pales in comparison to everything else in band's early days. The songs just lack that something, that certain something.

"Monster" (1994): This disc holds a special place in my heart for being the soundtrack to one of my years in high school. I like certain songs a lot. But, and this is a big but, Peter Buck made me never want to use a delay pedal again. What do I mean? On "Monster," Buck uses a delay pedal so damn much, it makes me want to die. But, hey, "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" is just too good to ignore.

"Around the Sun" (2004): I know I'm in the minority on this, but I really think "Around the Sun" is a very good album. Barely anyone bought it, but longtime R.E.M. fans who did ignore it should really give it a second listen. It makes me excited for the new disc.

"Green" (1988): The band's major-label debut, "Green" features "Turn You Inside Out" and "World Leader Pretend," two of my favorite songs by the group. The reason the disc is this low lies in the amount of filler on the very top-heavy album.

"Reckoning" (1984): Man, I heard "So. Central Rain" on XM just this weekend. That tune is way too good. I love it. Add "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" and a few other gems, and you have quite the disc. This is the point where it becomes very hard to rank albums because I love them all so, so much.

"Out of Time" (1991): Here's the one and only reason I put "Out of Time" ahead of "Reckoning": "Country Feedback." Oh sure, I love "Losing My Religion" and "Me and Honey" a ton, but "Country Feedback" is, probably, my favorite R.E.M. song. The guys don't play it anymore now that Bill Berry retired. That's sad.

"Murmur" (1983): The record that started it all, it's tough to rank "Murmur" this low knowing it's the blueprint for countless bands that came after. But, it's got to rank somewhere, and I think there are some lesser tunes here.

"Document" (1987): I can still remember being 8 and seeing the "The One I Love" video on MTV incessantly. My dad used to mock the song and tell me it was bad, but I didn't listen. I made him take me to some mall record store to buy the tape. Somewhere, probably in my parents' attic, I still have that tape.

"Automatic for the People" (1992): Many people of my kind, you know, rock critics, rank this at the top of the R.E.M. hierarchy, but I put it third. I love it, and still listen to it, but I just can't bring myself to put it ahead of the next two, no matter how I (sarcasm alert) controversial it might be to place it here.

"Lifes Rich Pageant" (1986): I love this record. When I was having that conversation with friends, my first inclination was to say this was my favorite. Every song is good. The disc is short. "Fall on Me" is perfect. There's so much more I could say, but that'd be just piling it on, wouldn't it?

"New Adventures In Hi-Fi" (1996): I know this is "new R.E.M.," sort of, and that it's not even really a traditional studio album, but I just don't think R.E.M. ever got better than this. It's really sad knowing this was Bill Berry's last disc with the band because the guys clearly had so much momentum. I can only imagine what the followup might have been. I know this record is a tad bit long, but it's so good. There is not one mistake to be found, one note out of place. I still listen to this consistently.

OK, so time for your list. Hope your Christmas was good. Mine was OK, for a little while. Thanks for asking.

1 comment:

ChrisB. said...

I was going to post a defense of "Fables," but after some additional thought, I've decided otherwise. In all honesty, it's record I want to really love more than record I actually love.

Perhaps its greatest value is that it is sort of a precursor to "Out of Time."

"Life's Rich Pageant" on the other hand is a record that for some reason I don't always remember that really love. In fact, while on most occasions I say that "Reckoning" is my hands-down favorite, "Life's Rich Pageant" is probably right up there with it.

-Chris (one minute you're driving around in your brother's old Dodge Dart blasting "Begin the Begin"; the next, you're driving around with a four year old in the backseat of wife's car, while the local "progressive" station plays "Superman.")