REM returns from the wilderness

May 12th, 2008 - 11:34 am ICT by admin  

By Sevanand Gaddala
The rock band REM is back. For the past decade or so, the critically acclaimed music group wandered through the wilderness. And now with their album “Accelerate”, they can, along with U2, Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers, compete for the title of best rock band in the world. Things started going off the rails for the band in 1997 after their drummer Bill Berry quit. Lead singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills tried to make do with a few replacement drummers. Though they came out with three albums - “Up”, “Reveal” and “Around the Sun” - this past decade, all were tepidly received and critics were ready to write their obituary.

However, with their new album the band brings out the guitars and the album is a sonic rush.

REM was a hugely popular college band in the 1980s and they shot to fame with “Murmur” (1983). Soon they established themselves with a few more critically well-received albums like “Life’s Rich Pageant” and “Document”. They got a little help climbing the charts with their hit singles “Radio Free Europe”, “The One I Love” and “Stand”.

In 1991, they reached the upper echelons of superstardom with “Out of Time”. It featured the monster hit “Losing My Religion” and the music video for the song directed by Indian American Tarsem Singh is widely considered one of the best videos ever.

Their follow album, 1992’s “Automatic For The People” saw the band take on a more experimental approach, creating moody and atmospheric pieces. It was critically praised and even featured quite high on a few critics’ best albums ever lists.

With “Monster” in 1994, they ramped up the guitars and opted for a grungy sound with the hit “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”

The next big thing to happen to the group was drummer Bill Berry quitting to become a farmer. They seemed out of sorts with his departure. Though they showed some spark of their original genius, their albums seemed to completely miss the mark.

Four years ago, they released “Around the Sun” and it was such a disappointment that most people considered it their swan song. It seemed that one of the most relevant bands of all time was simply going to fade away.

The three members of the band have had to do some intense soul searching and decided to give it one last shot. And now, it looks like they are here to stay. They will now be placed back among the pantheon of greats like Pink Floyd, U2, and Radiohead as bands that managed to do the most difficult thing in the music industry - be completely artistic but also commercially viable.

Stipe’s lyrics are literate with academic leanings. They have distilled the best of punk, atmospheric melodies, revved up the guitars and seductive pop hooks in a world where the iPod is considered the greatest musical trendsetter since Elvis Presely.

Now the single is king and REM’s new album comes packed with short, fast, and punchy singles. They seemed to be in a hurry to remind us that they have found their major again.

(Sevanand Gaddala is a film and music writer. He can be contacted at

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