I have received a couple comments so far regarding my challenge. Andrea Musso wrote this before my commentary and has stated very eloquently, in fact, an opinion of being a fan of R.E.M. but also a fan of being a fan of music in general. Unlike some of my barbs directed at R.E.M. I think she is very fair regarding her commentary. I also want to compliment her use of the English language as she is from Argentina so be kind in that respect.
I've been questioning for quite a while my 'fandom' for REM. I don't like to say I'm a fan, because to me that implies a blind praise to an artist’s work, so I rather consider myself an admirer with the ability to discern between good stuff and utter crap.
I can't blame Collapse into now for my 'losing my faith' in the band. I guess it's something that has been gestating in my mind for some years (at least from around the sun on) but when the track list for CiN came out, with names as 'me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I', 'every day is yours to win' -out of a self help book, I immediately thought- and the other crappy ones, it just didn’t feel right to me, despite knowing I was prejudging them. Then Discoverer came out, I downloaded it and I think I must have heard it no more than 10 times. Chatting to other murmusians I sort of felt bad at the moment because they implicitly questioned my lack of interest. Truth is I couldn't spot any of the other released tracks if my life depended on it because I haven't listened to them more than ten times.
So I started wondering why wasn't I interested in them as I had before. I've been listening to their music since 1998 and for most of my late teenage years and early adulthood they were the ones that, with their music, kept me sane in my hardest moments. At that time, I admired their artistic integrity, and their choice to put music over business in a world that in general terms put money over music. Very naive of me, I know.
I think I can define my relationship with music in three stages. The first one took place during my childhood, with my approach to local artists, which to this day are one of my favorites (namely the greatest Argentinean songwriter of all times, Charly García). The second one was my REM era, where I would only listen to all of their CDs most of the time and nothing else. The third, and definitive one, came when I was in college and met a guy who was into a wide range of music, while simultaneously getting Internet access at home. That really opened my mind and I began exploring a lot of different artists and genres, up to today.
Back in September I came across with a Vampire Weekend song (cape cod kwassa kwassa) while I was listening to some 'indie' radio. Something struck me right away about their music, and I think it was the African beat. I’ve always had a thing for that kind of music and really enjoy the Eastern vibes, so I was kind of curious about them. I got their albums and discovered a richness, both in lyrics and music I couldn't get my hands off. I'm no music expert and I only guide myself with what I like, despite the hypes and critical acclaim, but to me it was one of the greatest discoveries I made this year.
I've been wondering ever since what made this band so appealing to me. At first I guess it was the ‘music of the world’ beats mixed with string arrangements, that sort of east meet west kind of mash up, but then (and specially in the second album) I discovered the complexity of their music, the multiple layers of instruments and samples, all and the (machinery like) mechanisms that makes it work so perfectly, going from a flawless rhythmic base to the baroque works of the keyboard, guitars and voices. I am aware that it’s not like they invented TNT, I can acknowledge their influences and I know they’re not the greatest band in the world either, but mesmerized as I was, I began searching on these guys and found out that they had a self produced album (the keyboardist is the band's producer) and had toured the US for quite a while by themselves. At the same time, they were sending their demos to blogs and such. Pretty much, it was four smart guys hanging out who ended up making decent music, recording it/mixing it with a laptop and consequently hopping on a van to tour somewhere and making themselves a reputation via the interwebz and the way of word. I guess it’s rather simple to do that today, without depending on a label to launch your work to the world (despite being successful or not) and I was curious enough as to try, and ending figuring out that that was the way (again, at an initial level, not taking into account all the hype that was created among them) to do things right. I also discovered that VW not only does interesting music, but they’re also very down to earth in regards of their own popularity, (something that I can speak of) and most important of all, they seem to have fun while they’re at it.
My VW ode is in no way made to make an out of context comparison between them and REM because they both emerged in different times and I’m sure without the internet and computer aid, VW wouldn’t have the level of popularity and recognition they have today. But I think that at the end of the day, you have to make all variables work to end up with a decent work. These kids do, while REM seem to have lost interest in making something that apparently has to be both meaningful to them in an ‘artsy’ way, up to their standards and also that they can enjoy. To me, they have been working only because after NAIHF they had to make another six albums and couldn’t get rid of the deal. Should they have quit when Bill left and go making movies and tin foil sculptures because that was what truly made them happy? As far as I’m concerned, they could’ve done that, they don’t owe me or any other fans anything. Personally, I’d prefer to listen to the albums they made when they were satisfied with what they were doing, rather than having to ‘like’ something that is way below their standards. It should be a matter of dignity on their behalf, as I’m sure it would be to me if I ever find myself doing something I don’t enjoy anymore.
Does the ‘collapse’ of my admiration for REM mean I’m losing my coolness in regards to liking a band that most of 16-year-old girls seem to love unconditionally? I don’t know. Maybe I have and now I’m into a band that is liked by schoolgirls who won’t even pay attention to the complexity of the issues the lyrics talk about -mainly in Contra-, and even by the most elemental Argentinean hipster who loves ‘mansard roof’ because it mentions the Argies, despite it being a clear reference to the failures of my home country. Maybe I’m just prejudging the girls and the hipsters with my ‘I know better than you’ attitude. Maybe now I’m into a band that sells its music to Tommy H and Honda (and the girls are right), when ten years ago I would’ve fight to death the dignity of REM for not being ad ‘sellouts’, which is also quite arguable, I think. Or that I have become a cynic, as I grew older. In the end, I have to admit they’re all in it for the money; although for VW at least we should consider whether or not they’re whoring their tunes out.
I think Radiohead to be a very odd, out of the box example. Why have they done such little promotion? Because evidently, they don’t seem to need it. These are the guys who released In Rainbows for free and even gave you a copy of their album at their live shows. Can you even think of a more inappropriate financial suicide than giving away your stuff for nothing? Who works for nothing these days? (besides me, but that’s another story). As you clearly stated, there is more than one way to promote, even if it implies not promoting anything at all ‘the old fashioned way’. In these times of illegal music downloading if you can’t fight it, join it and take
your money out of touring, which in my opinion is where the real profits are. If you like the band, it doesn’t matter if you buy the album but I’m sure you’ll spend all your money for a ticket.
So yeah, times have changed and REM clearly needs to go with the new trends and figure out clever ways of promotion. Or just leave the boat while they can, with their amazing history and contribution to the music world intact. It’s not up to me, or you or Warner, it is up to them. I guess I’d feel more proud of them if they did that than having to put up with their boring stuff because otherwise I’d feel like I’m betraying them.
I am disappointed about REM and I’m not sure there’s a way back for me, as long as they keep releasing songs named autopilot, antimatter, antiwhatever but at least I guess I can relay to their older stuff while I go to concerts with eighteen year old girls who have a crush on a guy straight out of a Tommy H ad.
On typical Monday mornings, it’s always a chore to get out of bed but not yesterday. Feeling invigorated after a cool band (Who is Arcade Fire?) won the Album of The Year Grammy, and before anyone could Let England Shake (and props to PJ Harvey for letting me borrow this from her REMring endorsed new album), the guys at Radiohead decided to announce to the world that they were coming out with a new record.
Oh, and the record was coming out this Saturday.
And I thought to myself, what the fuck is going on? How is it possible that a band can come out with an album without months and months of promotion? That is not how the big record companies do it and of course they are big and successful because of their superior knowledge in putting out music. This is what I am used to and not some willy-nilly, oh we are going to come out with a record within the week, and on a Saturday for Christ sakes. Who comes out with albums on a Saturday?
You know, Radiohead is completely fucking up my entire music listening experience, from the random song clip or the single being released on some website to build up my expectations. Their promotion sucks compared to that of R.E.M., oh with their months of preparation for this album.
The Warner Brothers, the record company, had hours to sit in boardrooms to stare at blank walls and pick their noses to figure out how to truly make ‘Collapse Into Now’ a great record; to come out with all the catchy taglines such as ‘A Return To Form’ or ‘Back to their Classic Sound’. How to make all those wonderful videos with the lyrics.
They were able to share with all their favorite reviewers to assure that magazines like Spin put their most favorable R.E.M. fan in charge of the review of course before the fans or some of the fans start shredding it.
All we got from Radiohead was an appreciative statement that they were happy that we waited. With R.E.M. we got the same spiel we get after every record. Peter Buck thinks this is the best album that they have ever done. Michael is not talking, and a series of random facts and figures by Mike. Of course it would be possible to come up with an interview for this album based entirely off of past interviews and it would be completely believable.
We have to stop thinking about the common method for releasing an album is. What Radiohead is proving is that there are more than one methods for large mainstream bands wanting to release music and that does not necessarily mean spending 3 months hyping the shit out of it.
Whatever is in our brains, whether it’s releasing Singles, B-Sides, Tours, Press, no longer applies. We have to start from scratch and have no preconceived notions.
As a sidenote, I have been sitting here listening to the new PJ Harvey album as I type this and it’s continuing a standard for me that the new music that I am checking out and listening is 100 times better than what has been a total and utterly disappointing Collapse of My R.E.M. Fandom.
The songs on the new record blow, blow and blow again. I went from being slightly excited with this release to complete and utter boredom. The question is not whether I will actually like the new album or not to will I actually purchase it. I question whether I will have to change my site address to www.remringpre2k.com.
I wonder whether it would have just been much simpler to just release the album on December when Discoverer was promoted without any press because with fewer preconceived notions I think I would have been much more open to purchasing it.
I wonder whether my tastes and preferences are shifting and I question what is the point to writing about a band that I claim to admire when all that comes out of my mouth these days is crap, crap and more crap.
I question how anyone in the R.E.M. office likes this site. (And I do question why it has not been removed. Not that it would get me upset as I can totally understand a business having issues with a guy on a blog ragging on their wares).
I have done my spleen-venting and maybe it’s just time to move past the site to something better . . .
'It Happened Today' is now available in it's deconstructed parts whereby users can go, download all the tracks and recreate their own version of the song and post it here.
It is nice to see the band doing something a little forward-thinking in allowing the consumer to play around with the deconstructed tracks to assemble a completely unique song.
I haven't provided myself enough time to give Uberlin a fair shot as of yet, which is the reason for my delayed response in commenting on this song. And since Mr. Marrone is unavailable I will hold off on providing any correspondence this time around.
At this point, I feel that the song has the potential to be a grower if the new album is something that I am looking at playing pretty consistently (which is obviously becoming part of the problem so far). I would guess that it's in the same vein as something like 'Monty Got a Raw Deal', a good album track.
And I think that is the deal with the great albums is that on your typical awesome 10-12 track album, the ones that you admire that there are 6-8 awesome songs and the others fit where they may. However, over time you begin to admire these tracks more than some of the hits.
So I guess we will have to see how the entire album pans out and make the appropriate comments at that time.
Matt Marrone's Response:
As much as you might want me to, I can't convince you that the new songs are good and I can't force you to like them. I'm a pretty stingy, stubborn critic myself. But in my initial disgust over Around the Sun, I realized in horror that my worst fears had come true -- R.E.M. was no longer truly relevant. At first I was angry, bitter, resentful -- and all around a pretty miserable son of a bitch on certain message boards. But, as the weeks and months passed, I came to terms with it -- and, like many things in life, the worrying was far worse than the reality. I've since found new artists to take R.E.M.'s place on the pedestal, and ever since, I've been perfectly fine winning small battles with the band, without worrying about the greater war.
I think this paragraph sums it up for me. Yes, my heart says that I want R.E.M. to make that last great album and then ride into the sunset just like "The Masked Man" did with Tonto and the Horse. My brain, however, says that the writing is on the wall and that this is not possible so when my heart and brain meet for a summit it's been determined that they just be relevant. And I guess from the songs that have been provided so far is that relevance is not an option, either.
And lastly, between the bullshit 3 month marketing blitz that makes me want to vomit and comments from the bandmembers themselves, which promote the same crap, that by the time this album is going to come out I am going to be so exhausted I will not want to listen to it anyhow.
Ah the joys of blogging!
Further correspondence between your's truly and Mr. Matthew Marrone.
I know you are sitting there chomping at the bit waiting to have a go at me regarding ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’, the latest song to be added to the long list of singles that R.E.M. has released in their careers. I doubt that they are going to get a big write-up in Village Voice.
And let’s be honest, this does not Smell Like Teen Spirit.
As I have read the words and praises of many sites so far that have heard the album, I am still waiting for that moment to arise where I shout to the heavens and announce that R.E.M. has once again returned to dominate rock and roll. We are 1/3 through this album right now and so far I have been wholly underwhelmed. It’s an album that appears it will dominate a healthy amount of dust on my CD shelf or lack of plays on my iTunes.
Whether that is a symptom of the band, myself or a little bit of both, I feel as if I am being lied to. When you feel like you are being lied to there is quite a bit of soul-searching involved which you begin to question why you are doing what you are doing in the first place. I guess you can say that the site’s mission was always a flawed one at that. . . one based on live recordings with a healthy dose of perspective of a Gen X’er who was ruined by the great music R.E.M. released in the 80’s and 90’s. But making comments about this song is like kicking around the Handicapped.
My wife brought up a tune by the band Arcade Fire, ('Suburban War' if you are curious) which for all accounts is very R.E.M.-ish in it’s structure with the jangly guitar chords and one of my favorite songs from this album. The album, ‘The Suburbs’ is exactly what I would want out of a Pop Album, with lyrics and music both meaningful and catchy. ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ reminds her of a song that should be on the show ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and to be honest I cannot agree with her more. There is nothing all that complicated about the song, very simple and straightforward. Win Butler's singing on it is not over the top, and the jangly guitar just bleeds something that Peter Buck dreams in his sleep. But if you place this song and 'Mine Smell Like Honey' in front of me, I pick 'Suburban War' every time. At the same time you can take any four songs you want off Arcade Fire's 'The Suburbs' and put them up against the 4 songs on this album and I take Arcade Fire every time. There is no comparison. Arcade Fire is at a completely different league than R.E.M. is right now. And the question is, is why am I wasting my time worrying about a band putting out second-rate music when there are lots of bands like Arcade Fire out there?
R.E.M. circa 2010 has no soul, which is why in the 80’s the million or so jangly bands could not just replicate their sound because for what it’s worth, there was that uniqueness about them. Even in the 90’s each of the albums was slightly off so they never sounded “Mainstream”.
For you at home players and Mr. Matty, try this: give me 3 singles from the 80s and 90s which are worse than this one? I cannot find one. We are not even talking same ballpark.
We are being sold the line that this is R.E.M.’s classic sound with the Millsy background vocals, hooks, and whatnot but I really am trying to find it. This is not classic but boring. I sat around for days trying to actually come up with words to describe “Nothing”. I guess that is the first question about whether a song moves you is that you should feel something regarding it. Anything!?!
What I find even more impressive is that someone decided America was the perfect place to release this disposable song to the masses. I am not sure how I feel about this, if it’s not a slight insult to American Rock Fans everywhere.
I have questioned whether I still wanted to write about “Nothing” as if this was some Seinfeld routine and I am tired of listening to apologists whine about their supposed brilliance and that they deserve a 17th chance or that it’s all Stipe’s fault for smoking (aka to you young kids out there starting a band, don’t smoke cause your 14th record is gonna suck cause you won’t be able to sing on it).
What do you think R.E.M. fan retirement is like? Do you just post old YouTube videos on Facebook and listen to your Facebook friends throw random quotes like “Amber Waves of Gain” in their status updates and pine for a more simple time in your life when your favorite rock and roll band’s drummer had a unibrow and your favorite band’s lead singer had hair? Do you pull out Murmur and blast it out of the car while you are on you way to get your prostate checked up on?
Of course there is rumor that Uberlin is the hit song on the record, and a second rumor that it will be released next week so I am writing this in hopes that Uberlin throws a life preserver to this below average album. However, I am not sure what happens if Uberlin turns out to be more hype than hope. Do I write the eulogy? Do I start writing letters to you about how the new songs are without listening to them? Do I start writing about other bands here, ignoring the Rapid Eye Movement’s?
So that is about the size of it. Outside of handcuffing me and putting this song on repeat is the only way that you would make me listen to this song. I will be a sport, however, and allow you to demonstrate your best Ricky Gervais impression and tear me to shreds.
Matthew Bologne's decided to respond to my comments which you may read here:
In choosing to comment on some of his thoughts Matthew stated:
As for the lyrical reference to Houston, well, I would agree with you wholeheartedly if it weren't for the simple fact that the lyrical reference actually works here. It revisits a character and a time, updating a memorable phrase with its aftermath. That's very different from simply adding "part two!" to the lyrics
I have no problem with the idea of a song being used showing the aftermath of a previous song or being a follow-up if we are talking about an album where we have a linear progression from start to finish, i.e. your typical rock opera for example.
But now we are jumping from album to album bringing Fred and Wilma back from Accelerate into this new album with the previous album's context in mind. What will the next album speak about? The BP Oil Spill?
Of course I am writing this with not a full context of 'Claps Into Now" which of course the pinheads will shun me for even expressing my opinion.
And lets not forget, the R.E.M. conspiracy theorists out there will claim that all the albums are interconnected, so who knows.
This has always been one of my favorite shows from the opening line "Support your local fanzine. Welcome to Friday's. It's Friday. We're R.E.M. We might be in tune."
In some way the dry droll method at which Michael Stipe introduces the band and then launches into a powerful version of 'Just a Touch' sets the tone for the entire evening. Minus some of the cuts with the sound or inequities with the sound this is a beautiful recording that captures that early R.E.M. sound to a T.
At this point the band had been in existence for all of a year and a half, and judging by the setlist that you see below you will notice that things are starting to shape up to the types of songs that you might recognize from their early albums. There are still songs that end up getting scrapped like Ha (We Get Paid For It), what appears to be a relatively new addition to the setlists at this time, That Beat, Permanent Vacation (well you know the usual suspects).
Where we see the band stand out however, is the spontaneity that they show. For example, during the performance of 'Romance' the band launches into an a capella version of Oh Ok's 'Round Is Funny' (Listed as 'Chained to the Wall' on the bootleg and many sites). It shows a band eager to please and entertain and not fret during what the band might consider nightly equipment problems.
At any rate, still one of my top shows from this year. Hope you enjoy.
Right-Click to Download Tracks (In FLAC)
November 6, 1981
1. Just a Touch
2. Burning Down
3. Ha (We Get Paid For It)
4. Shaking Through
5. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville
6. There She Goes Again
7. Permanent Vacation
8. Pretty Persuasion
9. That Beat
10. Mystery To Me
11. Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)
12. Rave On
13. Ages of You
14. I Can't Control Myself
17. Round Is Funny
18. Sitting Still
19. Wolves, Lower
20. Gardening At Night
23. Radio Free Europe
Below is the continuing correspondence between Matthew Marrone and myself regarding ‘Collapse Into Now’. You will be able to read Matthew’s correspondence at Records I Download Illegally @ Blogspot Dot Com.
When I heard the first line of the song 'Oh My Heart': ‘The kids have a new take, a new take on faith’ I have to be honest, Mr. ESPN-New York-Snuggie-Loving-Man that I thought of Breesus, the savior of the New Orleans Saints football team. My first question of course was whether Michael Stipe is following ESPN New York and watches Sportscenter on a daily basis and my second question was whether John Michael Stipe was aware of his birthmark. I guess it would be something of a new thing for Michael Stipe to delve into the sports arena from time to time and write a song about the "Football Team". I would hope that the line is about Breesus as I get the feeling that the New Orleans Saints literally played a bigger role into the faith of the city than some might give credit for.
The good news of course is that R.E.M. chose not to release another song about New Orleans AND the Sun. Of course, I am referencing, ‘In the Sun’, the Michael Stipe-covering-Joseph Arthur track which of course was for charity so we will keep the complaining down to a minimum.
I will also play the role of the cock-gobbler this time and admit that I somewhat liked the song. First impressions to be sure, I thought that the music was solid, more reminiscent of some of their 'Out of Time-era' work but also a bit of 'Sing for the Submarine/Worst Joke Ever' thing going on. It sounds a little less over-produced, a bit more authentic musically than the lackluster 'Discoverer' and more complete than 'It Happened Today'.
But there is something that is starting to bug me. The idea of using R.E.M. lyrics from previous songs ala - ‘Sing for the Submarine’ was a good idea that Michael Stipe is starting to get carried away with. It would be as if songs are all of a sudden getting put into some historical narrative. Michael Stipe has never so linear about events to the point that you could pretty much guess that the song was going to be about New Orleans or Katrina or just read the description of the song on NPR before you have a chance to hear it. Now we are to the point where Stipe will start updating the entire R.E.M. catalog so that all songs are brought properly into the 21st Century.
Madloop, ‘Will we get Country Feedback Part Two? ‘This DVD is on, on a maddening skip?’
Radio Song, part 33 1/3? ‘It’s that same viral video on youtube, makes me sad’
What I am referring to is: ‘The storm didn’t kill me, the government changed’ which is of course a very close resemblance to the lyric in Houston ‘If the storm didn’t kill me, the government will’. Yes, the new line, by itself is pretty clever and works but with being a total reference to ‘Houston’ all of a sudden loses it’s luster. Yes, the government changed but some might argue that the current government has still forgotten about New Orleans. This point is up for debate.
Does Houston all of a sudden lose any chance it has to be timeless? (Some might answer this question that it was not a timeless song to begin with, of course begs the question whether 'Accelerate' was a 'Return To Form'. Even NPR short-changed Accelerate by saying that this album is the best since Up. When liberal media organizations, the same liberal media organization that got rid of Juan Williams, now a multi-million dollar Fox News Correspondent also starts ripping into R.E.M., and yes that is a rip, that sorta makes the shit you read on my site pretty tame. )
I like this song, do not get me wrong. The music is very reminiscent from Out of Time, and from someone like myself who has given Stipe a bit of grief over lyrics I would think that we should mention a song like Country Feedback from that album.
Arguably the greatest R.E.M. song ever, at least if you are talking to Neil Young. When I compare ‘Oh My Heart’ against a song like 'Country Feedback' or 'Half A World Away' might be a better comparison, I am listening to a lead singer that is speaking the lyrics rather than putting any soul in them. I would guess that a song about New Orleans needs a little soul to feel truly authenti and the 'Out of Time' tracks feel much more authentic based more on the delivery of Stipe than on the lyrics. 'Country Feedback' repeats the same lyric over and over again. 'Half A World Away' is much the same, a very simple lyric repeated over and over again but given a different delivery than the delivery on 'Oh My Heart'.
And maybe that was what made some of the folksy stuff from the 90s so appealing was that R.E.M. was never playing the role of a folk band when they had a true crooner like Michael Stipe.
There are certain songs where a delivery like this would work well and I am just not sure that the delivery is correct for this song. Of course this is the dilemma of the first time listener trying to write a love letter to my favorite Cheating Yankee Fan.
The crux of the issue is that these slight modifications would turn a good song into a great song. Musically, it is very strong, as Mills and Buck are solid and based on the other two songs that have been released so far this is the strongest of the three.
Although as some that might read this, the shallow nature of my positive review might make some people cringe a bit. I would expect from you a totally positive fuck-Derek Jeter-up-the-ass type of review that we would expect from you. Because of course that is the role you are supposed to play, you know the likeable R.E.M. fan that loves everything and be the real fan.
So go put on your foofy Bunny Suit cause the fans are getting excited to read your enthusiastic response to this song and we can finally agree that there is an R.E.M. song on this album that we both like.
P.S. - BTW, to you girls out there who keep on asking me about whether Matthew is single, as far as I know he is but you can ask him yourself. Send him naked photos of yourself here. http://twitter.com/thebigm
Before I start pontificating about the new song(s) that were discovered on the world wide web today I thought I would offer them here for all my web viewing friends the links to those songs.
First, it's NPR's All Songs Considered which provided a nice stream of 'Oh My Heart' the latest song to make it into public viewing from 'Collapse Into Now'.
Second, it would be a nice 30 second sample of the first single from the album, Mine Smell Like Honey, which can be found on Amazon.
Third, it would be the first b-sides from Mine Smell Like Honey that can be found on Noi Tanmer (REM Nation backwards) which happen to be 'A Town Called Armadillo' and 'Zullu'. (Hat Tip to Chris Sikich).
UPDATE: The B-Sides claimed in this post turned out to be a hoax. My apologizes for this unacceptable error.