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It's the end of R. E. M. (And I feel fine)
Flashy is not a word one would use to describe R. E. M. Modest, yes. The biggest alternative-rock band to come out of America in the last 30 years, R. E. M defied labelling. They had a punk soul but a sound that was "semi-folk-rock-balladish", to use the words of member Peter Buck. They influenced a generation of American rock and transformed the American underground without evoking the hysteria or despair that Nirvana whipped up.
As Charles Aaron, editorial director, Spin, wrote, "They'd shown how far an underground, punk-inspired rock band could go within the industry without whoring out its artistic integrity in any obvious way. They'd figured out how to buy in, not sellout - in other words, they'd achieved the American Bohemian Dream. "
If the '60s were about being the next Beatles, then the '80s were all about being the next R. E. M: melodic and fiercely independent. Formed in Athens, Geogia, in 1981, R. E. M. - Michael Stipe, bassist Mike Mills, drummer Bill Berry, and bassist Buck - with their mumbled, murky lyrics and odd-ball music never crossed into the mainstream. Stipe's often nonsensically obscure yet political lyrics gave the band an air of mystery and charm. It's anybody's guess what Stipe was referring to in their very first single, Radio free Europe, when he sang, "Keep me out of country in the word/ Deal the porch is leading us absurd. /Push that, push that, push that to the hull/ That this isn't nothing at all. "
Their very first single, Radio free Europe, made them the darling of college radio stations. In 1983, after their debut album, Murmurs, they made their first national television appearance on David Letterman. Stipe, who had curly blond locks then, held onto the mic, his eyes hidden behind a curtain of hair. For a band who had been described as one of the five best things of 1983, R. E. M. were reluctant stars. They preferred playing at small theatres and relentlessly toured the college circuit, avoiding big tours. Things changed a little in 1988, when they struck a multi-million-dollar deal with Warner Brothers, to shouts of "sell-outs" from disappointed fans.
Nisheeth Rao, whose earliest memory of R. E. M. is Stipe singing One I love, feels that was the trait fans fell in love with. "They did what they wanted and in the process made a huge difference to an entire era, " says the 26-year-old, who now plays their songs when he DJs at a cafe in New Delhi.
If Document (1987) was the first album to sell a million copies, Out of Time, released in 1991, changed their lives. Losing my religion - one of the most overplayed songs at any rock pub - was the band's highest chartered single on the Billboard charts. Out of Time got them three Grammy awards. 1992's Automatic for the People gave the world three more gems: Drive, Man on the Moon (a personal favourite) and Everybody Hurts. Monster (1994) had a more rock sound to it, with touches of seventies glam rock. This success saw the band undertake their first big tour in six years. R. E. M. re-signed with Warner in 1996 for a reported $80 million, the largest recording contract in history at that point. The group's 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi debuted at number two in the US and number one in the UK.
The fall started soon after - from grace and the charts. Barry quit after suffering a brain aneurysm on stage. Over the last decade, the band struggled to recapture the dominant position on the charts it had enjoyed in the '90s.
Then, on September 21, 2011, R. E. M. , announced they were going their separate ways. "A wise man once said, 'The skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave', " Michael Stipe, the group's lead singer and lyricist, said in a statement posted on the band's website. "We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we're going to walk away from it. I hope our fans realise it wasn't an easy decision, but all things must end. "
Sure there were gasps and a flurry of posts on social media networks. But the sun rose the next day and life went on. Perhaps best mirroring the R. E. M. hit from 1987, It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine). And that's exactly how every R. E. M. fan should feel. .
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