Back in June, I posted some songs from R.E.M.'s five records on the IRS label. Now, the time has come to take a look at their first four efforts for Warner Brothers.
To be sure, a lot of R.E.M. fans were screaming "Sell out!" when their boys made the jump to a major label in 1988 (though, truth be told, some had been screaming that ever since 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant). But screw them. 1988's Green was hardly a middle-of-the-road, mainstream effort, despite some added production glossiness and a song as absurdly poppy as "Stand." 1991's Out of Time was even more eclectic, marrying Beach Boys harmonies ("Near Wild Heaven"), pseudo-funk/rap ("Radio Song") and even MORE absurdly poppy singles ("Shiny Happy People"). 1992's Automatic for the People would turn out to be the band's masterpiece - a dark, acoustic rumination on life and death that spawned two of their most enduring tunes ("Man on the Moon" and "Everybody Hurts"). Finally, 1994's Monster arrived as a loud, semi-messy counterpoint to its subdued predecessor, as well as a direct reaction to the then still-pervasive grunge movement. And, though a lot of R.E.M. fans derided it at the time, one has to wonder if they've found some fondness for it now, seeing as what was to come in the post-Bill Berry era.
Bottom-line, the years 1988 to 1994 marked the period that R.E.M. broke from the college-radio underground and hit the mainstream. Three of the four records they released in that interval went multi-platinum, and they won Grammys and MTV Awards by the boatload. Never again would they be that popular. And perhaps never again will they be that creative. (Though miracles can and do happen in the music biz, and a comeback is always just one great album away.)
For our purposes today - and just to be crotchety and contrary - we will be passing over some of the more obvious song choices - singles, best-of tracks - for some nevertheless highly worthwhile album trax. Enjoy them or be damned.
[MP3] [left-click] "World Leader Pretend" [from the LP Green, 1988]
[MP3] [left-click] "Texarkana" [from the LP Out of Time, 1991]
[MP3] [left-click] "Belong" [from the LP Out of Time, 1991]
[MP3] [left-click] "Find the River" [from the LP Automatic for the People, 1992]
[MP3] [left-click] "Monty Got a Raw Deal" [from the LP Automatic for the People, 1992]
[MP3] [left-click] "Let Me In" (for Kurt Cobain) [from the LP Monster, 1994]