Twenty years ago, REM scored their first bona fide smash hit, when ‘Losing My Religion’ brought them unexpected (and, arguably, unwanted) transatlantic success. It was roughly four years after they’d left IRS to sign for Warner Brothers, when a section of early fans, disgruntled with the “poppier” aesthetic on 1988’s Green, started calling for them to call it a day. Most of those fans are probably in their mid-fifties now, but they finally got their wish in September. Better late than never, eh? The story demonstrates the incredible staying power of the Athens, Georgia band, who went 30 years without producing a genuine turkey (although they did their best withAround The Sun), and closed out their careers with the dignity and class that came to define them.
Matt Berninger of The National told The Skinny last year that they’ve modelled themselves on the band-democracy pioneered by REM. Since they started as a quartet in 1980, each member had equal say in everything, from the song structures to the album covers. But just as a democratic society will flounder if you remove the legislature or judiciary, when one of the pillars of REM was taken away, they stuttered. Despite a relative upturn over their last two albums, their post-Bill Berry output was sketchier and less inventive. They were missing a spark, but remained an excellent singles band, the best of which make it on here.
If you’ve been buying up the IRS remasters, you won’t need this compilation. If not, then it’s worth the money for the wonderful clarity shone on songs like Gardening at Night And So. Central Rain. Of course, everyone will gripe about what’s been left off (personal favourites Cuyahoga, Perfect Circle and Near Wild Heaven being notable absentees), but this is the best and most intelligently selected REM compilation you’ll get. It’s a fitting epitaph to a fantastic band, who’ve exited stage left, leaving us to stew forever over what the hell Stipe sings on The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.