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It’s the end of the world as we know it – REM split

So REM have announced that they have officially ceased to be, 30 years after they first played at an Athens, GA church. There’s very little new to say, really. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying.

 In the 80s, REM were the best band on the planet who weren’t called The Smiths and, even then, you could make a case for them.  Yes, the cognoscenti may try to push the claims of others, but it’s simply willful revisionism. REM mattered more than most because they were better than everyone else.

Some say they weren’t the same after they moved from IRS to Warners in 1988. Well, maybe not – but they were entering a new phase, a direction which can genuinely have been said to have changed music. Along with Nevermind, REM made ‘alternative’ music mainstream. They paved the way for bands who didn’t have a gorgeous lead singer or a way with pop marketing to get into Smash Hits.

Received wisdom has it that they peaked with Automatic for The People, but there were some great albums after that – New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Up and Reveal are all worth your attention. In fact, in their whole career there was only one album which was a great steaming whore of a thing – 2004’s dreadful Around the Sun was without redeeming features.

What can’t be argued was that the loss of Bill Berry in 1997 hurt the dynamic, as did the band scattering across the US continent to live. If ever a band was a band – and thrilled because of it – it was this band. But isn’t that always the way? They weren’t kids any more, they weren’t an outlaw troop on the road and against the world. The best thing about REM was that they didn’t pretend to be. They treated us as grown-ups and we loved them for that. But no one, no matter how dedicated, can claim that they weren’t past their best work. Accelerate, their last album, was fine. They could have produced one every few years and no one would have minded. But why bother? When you’ve reached the heights, there’s no point trying to stay in the middle.

It ended with a whimper, not a bang and so it should. REM were always far more than empty, explosive gestures. They have the most consistent canon in the history of modern rock and can rightfully claim to have influenced thousands of other acts. It’s a sad day, but it feels entirely right. They didn’t go around the sun, for a few years they were the damn thing and we’ll always be grateful. It was, in the parlance of grief, their time. Thank you for the memories.

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One Response

  1. I’ll never forget seeing them at Nitemoves in Glasgow. Truly an epochal moment for myself and loads of other Glaswegians.

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