Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking Souvenirs: R.E.M.'s 10 Best Albums

R.E.M. recently called it quits. I can't think of another band who had a decade as incredible as R.E.M.'s first, save for the Beatles (whose decade was only eight years). R.E.M. are one of my favorites, one of the greats. Listening to these records again has been my way of saying goodbye.

1. Murmur (1983)
Peter Buck’s shiny, ringing Rickenbacker paints in faded yellows, buoyed by the most melodic and modest of rhythm sections. The singer doesn't mumble, just pieces together syllables. Murmur exudes aura, and the band's gift was letting us live in it.

2. Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
A louder, angrier, more engaged and more decipherable band. At least at first—as Pageant unfolds, it wades into sublime waters. Only a handful of records from the 80’s Amerindie scene rival Murmur, but this is one of them.

3. Reckoning (1984)
Murmur's sidelong attack, trained on exuberant and melancholy Americana. A record that traffics in undercurrents--Finster's art captures it well, with titles to match.

4. Chronic Town (1981)
Toss in the Hib-Tone single here. R.E.M. arrived with these urgent, glancingly melodic oddities. They kick off their debut 7” and first EP with their very first pop moves.

5. Out Of Time (1991)
Guitar-pop that doesn’t sound huge, although the band was getting there. R.E.M. went several directions, surveying baroque harmonies, jangle-goof and devastating mandolin.

6. Automatic For The People (1992)
An elegiac procession of tunes, stately even. Stipe commits to each line with fervor, with a range that's surprisingly varied. This is the music you hear when you're lost in thought.

7. Fables Of The Reconstruction (1985)
You have to tear off the kudzu to unearth the brilliant songwriting on Fables, but it’s there. Darker and folksier, still a series of bread-crumbs.

8. Green (1988)
An uneasy mix of straight pop and dirgey folk-rock, of which the band were newly fond. No noticeable concessions to the major label—another fun, frightening colleciton.

9. Document (1987)
Featuring the worst production on a classic R.E.M. record, which neuters Bill Berry's drums. Thankfully, the band's sound had never been this strident before, playing with an ancient bite.

10. New Adventures In Hi-Fi (1996)
Expansive and rarely melodic, these sixty-six minutes of arena alternative sketch a new landscape for the band. R.E.M.’s record for the American West.


  1. almost wrote up the entire discography. would rank the rest:

    11. up
    (The band’s best post-Berry disc—not a high bar, though the records have their moments—finds them embracing drum machines and synthesizers, but at their most meditative. )

    12. collapse into now
    (Flipping the pages through their own history, Buck, Mills and Stipe neither surprise nor deliver the conquering single they still had in them. A goodbye record, good enough to make you wish it wasn’t.)

    13. accelerate

    14. monster
    (riding eddies of processed guitar...)

    15. reveal

    16. around the sun
    (I've really come around to "Leaving New York," FWIW)

  2. Surprised that Monster makes it as high as 14.