Saturday, 13 April 2013

REM: The Early Years

It's hard to imagine that REM's first LP "Murmur" is 30 years old, because it still sounds as fresh as (I imagine) it sounded when it was released.

There are some people who would call themselves REM fans but who have heard very little of the band's early work. They usually know of the big hits like "Everybody Hurts" or "Losing My Religion", or maybe even "Orange Crush", but they happened after the band jumped ship from indie label IRS records to Warner Brothers in 1988.

The first five REM records are all brilliant and there's barely a weak spot on any of them (there's more on album #3: "Fables of the Reconstruction" than on the others). They show a band that is raw and bristling with youthful energy. You can't always make out what Michael Stipe is singing about, but that was always the case, even into their later period. The lyrics may be indecipherable, but the chiming electric guitars with acoustic shadows and driving rhythms still sound fresh, despite sounding similar to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tom Petty was never this visceral or heartfelt, or even melodic - REM was always very tuneful.

The band sound very nervous on their first record "Murmur". The production is thin but that's because it was recorded cheaply. The band became tighter and better songwriters gradually and by the time "Document" was released in 1987, the production sounded better because the budget was bigger.

I hold the first five LPs of REM in very high regard, but my personal favourites would be "Life's Rich Pageant" and "Reckoning" (LPs 4 and 2 respectively.) For those who have never heard of any of the early work, below is "The Best of REM" on Spotify which cherry-picks 3 songs from each of the first 5 albums in chronological order, and the opening track is taken from their first EP release "Chronic Town".

Turn it up and, most of all, ENJOY!

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