R.E.M. has had one hell of a run these past three decades. They started out while college students in Athens, Georgia in 1980 and have been playing and performing ever since. Michael Stipe et al announced the band’s split earlier this year. Their final album, Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011 (Warner Bros.), is a comprehensive compilation retrospective consisting of forty tracks. A strong body of work.
Three new cuts accompany the trip back in musical time. On the sensual, philosophical “We All Go Back To Where We Belong,” Stipe sounds impassioned but tired, yet not so tired he can’t “taste the ocean on your skin.” “A Month Of Saturdays” is happier and you can’t help but think it’s reflecting the relief the former band members feel at no longer being a band. No surprise when you consider Stipe saying in interviews that Part Lies‘ immediate predecessor, Collapse Into Now, contained clear indicators of the band’s impending dissolution including Stipe waving goodbye on the cover. The sense of relaxation and returning energy is palpable. “Hallelujah” is a dramatically emotional and fitting farewell.
The literal definition of college rock, although R.E.M. generated acclaim for their fresh approach on”Radio Free Europe,” “Fall On Me,” and others, it was the single “Losing My Religion” off 1991′s album Out Of Time that effectively vaulted R.E.M. from music’s outer banks into the mainstream. Earlier, R.E.M. hit a resonating chord with the dark, grim and distincitve ”The One I Love” off their 1987 album Document. This song carried the weight and power of someone who’s kept quiet about something painful for a long time and when once let out, however calmly, you can hear the roar from a city away. Document also contained the inevitably prescient “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
R.E.M.’s achilles heel earlier in their career was Stipe’s tendency at times to go nasally maudlin and insipid along with the group just being out of sync with what was then musically popular. R.E.M. inthe late 1980s wasn’t knocking Poison or Madonna off the charts anytime soon. The 90s proved to be more fertile ground. Yet ultimately their style created a new musical category that is emulated to the nth degree by bands into the present day and most likely far beyond.