So, they've split. The greatest American Indie band of the 1980s (other than Pixies and The Replacements), and arguably one of the major bands of all time, practically the inventors of College Radio, R.E.M. started lean, incredibly poetic and enigmatic, invigoratingly political and sexy, and sometime in the mid-90s became increasingly bloated, over-familiar and ultimately staid, every one of their originally-brilliant stylistic moves now tics; they began to pastiche themselves.
The best way to think of them is in the late 80s. Stipe's yearning, haunted lyrics made him arguably the most intriguing young American poet of the time, committed, post-modern, and witty; somehow, coming from The South, they channelled a sense of Whitman, and Poe. People loved them, fell in love listening to them.
I think of masterpieces like 'Swan Swan H', 'Fall On Me', 'The One I Love', 'Half A World Away' and 'Orange Crush', let alone their more popular songs, like 'Losing My Religion', 'What's The Frequency Kenneth?', 'Man On The Moon' and 'Everybody Hurts'. I made a list of their best songs this morning at Spotify, and had around 50. Try doing that for almost any other band, ever, including The Beatles, The Doors, The Smiths, or U2. The truth is, R.E.M. were at a genius-level of creativity between 1983's Murmur and 1994's Monster.
Then came the slow, definite decline, painful for all fans to listen to, but always fraught with hope of some sort of resurgence. It never came, and their break-up, though sad, is also welcome. It allows us to now go back and appreciate what was achieved, in a new light. Thank you.