Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Goodbye, R.E.M.

A lot of people believe R.E.M. - who announced they were splitting up today - were po-faced, supercilious millionaire rock stars. Maybe they were - but I always thought Michael Stipe had a million times more humour, emotional complexity, and general awesomeness than Bono and Chris Martin the rest of the rock fraternity. No-one who takes himself seriously would ever have written that ridiculous "hey baby" Elvis impersonation into Man On The Moon.

Over the next few days, as they rake over the embers of R.E.M.'s career, you'll hear a lot about Everybody Hurts and how it became an anthem for the broken-hearted, disillusioned, disenchanted "youth of the nineties". People will also say the band never bettered it.

They will be wrong, because they've forgotten about At My Most Beautiful - a Beach Boys-style ballad from 1999's underrated, sonically adventurous Up album. Anyone who's ever fallen stupidly in love will recognise themselves in phrases like "I read bad poetry / Into your machine", and the naivete of the chorus, "I've found a way to make you smile", is audaciously, heart-smackingly beautiful. In lesser hands, the song could have been corny but, as critic Garry Mulholland once explained, it was Stipe's humble delivery that made R.E.M.'s frequently elliptical lyrics resonate with millions.

"There is almost no ego in his singing," he wrote, "only the desire to own the notes and the words, and to plant their roots into the ground."

I think I'll miss R.E.M.

R.E.M. - At My Most Beautiful


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