I’ve heard that R.E.M. (the band, not the sleep state) broke up today. I will always think fondly of R.E.M., if only for the early years in which I worked as the band’s lead singer…
I respect a band that knows it’s time to throw in the towel rather than dragging themselves and their fans through an agonizing morass of obligatory releases. Outside of “Radio Song,” I don’t think R.E.M. ever produced anything genuinely bad, though everything they recorded after about 1995 failed to stand out to me in any real way. I can’t remember a single song from Up, and while I enjoyed Reveal it lacked any real teeth or energy. Automatic for the People and New Adventures in Hi-Fi were a lot like U2’s output from the same era in the way they broke from the band’s safety zone and promised an energetic renaissance that never really happen. At least they had an excuse, since they lost their drummer; I don’t know what U2’s deal was.
Then again, maybe I just like those albums because they came out when I was an impressionable teenager and the band was totally awesome after that. I can confidently say that their early albums like Murmur and Fables of the Reconstruction are genuinely great, though, since I didn’t discover them until a few years ago and still enjoyed them in my dotage.
Like every dumb kid, music got me through some tough times, and R.E.M. was one of those bands. It’s a shame to see the band as an institution dissolved, I’m a little relieved that they were able to let it go. There’s little in the world more heart-wrenching than watching the living corpse of a band you loved shamble about the stage.