Paleopop

September 15th, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

Who knew? Ed was once an REM fan and now finds himself wondering what the hell happened to them (or him):

“…I was like, ‘Huh. It’s full of synth and orchestral background music and some of the songs are about childhood. REM has finally snapped, and they now believe they are the Moody Blues.'”

I feel his pain. Considering where I stopped reflexively thinking “This rules!” about each new REM album (that’d be “Green’), then considering that “Document” is the last album they did that I loved as unconditionally as anything else I can think of in the annals of “bands I obsessed over,” I guess I’m pretty close to being an REM primitivist.

I remember the collective eyebrow that went up around the room the night the first of our college klatsch brought home “Green” for a group listen. (What the hell was up with “The Wrong Child”? Who kidnapped the band long enough to slip in “I Remember California”?) After “Green,” REM fandom became an exercise in feeling the need to apologize for an increasing proportion of each album.

The thing that filled the void they left ended up being whatever it is we’re supposed to call Uncle Tupelo: y’allternative, Americana, alt-country, or whatever it’s called. I was initially attracted to REM because of the sense they were anchored in a culture and sensibility that was about the small and personal. Especially with the simple, beautiful images they evoked in “Fables of the Reconstruction.” With “Document” the balance began to shift toward simpler pop sentiment, and it seemed that over the next four years, the sensibility that fueled their first albums took a smaller and smaller place in their work. With “Monster,” they weren’t the band I’d known (even if I thought it was a pretty good album). “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” became the first REM album where I liked a minority of the songs, and it was the album where they lost me.

I’ve never felt too upset about that, though, and I’ve never indulged in much “they ruled until they sucked!” hostility toward them. My musical friendship with REM was firm and fast for close to ten years, which is a pretty good run for any band. As an issue of relative longevity, they’re about at the point in their run that the Rolling Stones were at in 1983 when they recorded “Under Cover,” and I know for a fact that album appalled a lot of the paleorock enthusiasts I knew in high school at the time.

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