So the other day REM announced they were calling it quits, and I know that like many of you my first thought was “wait, they’re still a band?” Well, apparently they were and in light of their announcement, I e-mailed the girl who broke up with me twenty years ago to let her know we were through.
Why am I being so mean? After all, there was a time when REM were hailed as an important band. But that time was known as the 80s. The decade that brought you other bad ideas like acid rain, deficit spending, and the snap bracelet. The truth is that REM amounts to little more than a breath of non-processed fresh air during a decade of uninspired house music and hair metal.
Look, no one is more surprised by how little I care about REM’s demise than I am. After all, there was a time when I was a fairly large REM fan. I still think 1986’s Life Rich Pageant is one of the greatest pop rock albums of all time. That’s right. Of all time. So why all the hate
Because REM is one of the shockingly laziest bands of all time. They reached a point that many other great band reach where they had the power to progress as musicians and make their own rules, and they used that power to become increasingly safe and boring.
Compare them to U2. Both bands require songwriting in the collective sense because unlike the Beatles or the Who or even a band like Bon Jovi no one in the group is an accomplished enough songwriter on their own. And much like U2, REM featured guitarists who were not technically virtuosos, but who had developed unique sounds.
But unlike U2 they did not try to grow as artists. They did not experiment with changes in sound or style or songwriting. A few years after the Joshua Tree, U2 did Achtung Baby and Zooropa. A few years after Out of Time, REM wrote Everybody Hurts – a song so cliché and absurd that the first time I heard it, I laughed out loud, thinking the boys were parodying saccharine boring G/C/D cheeseball inspirational music. I was wrong. So very very wrong.
The songwriting stalled and Stipe decided to use less and less of his vocal range on every single album. Their instrumentation remained unchanged as did their songwriting. Zero musical growth rate, which I guess is OK if you’re the Ramones, but they weren’t. They were just four guys from Georgia who had a neat sound reminiscent of the Byrds who polished their product to perfection in 1986 and then repeated it until everyone including themselves apparently lost interest.
Gladstone is a columnist for Cracked.com, the creator and star of the Hate By Numbers video series, and the author of the forthcoming novel Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. Most of his stuff can be found on his site.