This week R.E.M. release the 25th Anniversary Edition of their punctually-deficient fourth album, Lifes Rich Paegant. The album, produced by Don Gehman and released in 1986, features the hit "Fall On Me," a cover of the Clique's "Superman" and is best known as yet another album where the singing of Michael Stipe becomes disturbingly clearer.
Let's do ten facts everyone needs to know about R.E.M.
10) R.E.M. Began As A Riddle: When they began, Michael Stipe sang with marbles in his mouth and had lots of hair. They liked things that were out of focus and song titles that gave you little idea what they were thinking. Nobody figured these shy boys would end up playing arenas unless they locked it before anyone got in.
9) R.E.M. Were Considered "Retro" for Playing Guitars: It sounds crazy, but it's true. By the early 1980s, synthesizers were hot and even heavy metal bands added keyboards to their sound! Punk bands maintained distortion. R.E.M. jangled. On Rickenbackers! What year was it? This was going to be the next great American Rock Band? It didn't work for the db's!
8) R.E.M. Are Athens, Georgia's Second Best Band: Pylon broke up the first time in 1983. When R.E.M. were declared America's Best Rock Band, they didn't agree. The title belonged to this other Athens, Georgia band. They covered Pylon songs to make the band a little money. Since who bought Pylon albums? db's fans?
7) Bassist Mike Mills Is Their Secret Weapon: Stipe is the singer. Peter Buck plays with every musician he can find. Bill Berry retired. But anyone carefully listening to R.E.M. records knows the architect behind all their best stuff is the quiet, mild-mannered, un-rock-looking bassist, Mike Mills, who adds harmonies and works out the arrangements like he's John Paul Jones of the Led Zeppelin.
6) R.E.M. Signed a Record $80 Million Contract in 1996: Like Derek Jeter, R.E.M. were given a huge contract that paid them for past performance. It was the largest contract at that time. It ensured that no member of R.E.M. would ever work as a valet.
5) R.E.M. Have Not Been The Same Since The Drummer Left: A year after signing that huge contract, drummer Bill Berry, who experienced a brain aneurysm back in 1995, decided to leave the group and enjoy his life. While the band has used other drummers since, the chemistry was forever altered. Odd, considering R.E.M. were never a band dependent on rhythm and you'd think somebody would be able to drive the band. Pearl Jam have had how many drummers?
4) R.E.M. Created The Morally Responsible Rock Star: There are still mumbled allegations that the band could be pretty wild on tour, but when you think R.E.M., you think, "recycle your garbage."
3) You Can Never Trust A Review Of A New R.E.M. Album: Just as you rightfully roll your eyes at the term "best album since Exile On Main St.," or guffaw cynically at another rave review for something by Eric Clapton, you never take a positive review of a post-1994 R.E.M. too seriously. Too much money and too much reputation rides on these fellas for anyone in power to voice concerns that they ain't what they used to be. If you meet someone who tells you Around the Sun is "just as good" as Chronic Town, figure they work for Rolling Stone or management.
2) R.E.M. Changed People's Lives: It's all about your age. It may seem silly to older people who had their lives altered by Presley or the Beatles or Lothar and the Hand People or Uriah Heep or the Pet Shop Boys... Everyone is young at a different moment and learns things at their own pace. Many people are not affected by music. I don't know those people. R.E.M. were never my band, but they were for many people of "my g-g-g-generation."
1) R.E.M. Are The Epitome of College Rock: Yes, yes, when you look in the dictionary under "college rock," there will be a picture. R.E.M. give hope to liberal arts majors everywhere who would love to be artists but have neither the trust fund nor the talent. Surely, the lives of underachievers everywhere - and the chronically underemployed - are soundtracked by the first handful of R.E.M. records. Brother, can you spare an LP?