Fables of the Deconstruction: Further Thoughts on R.E.M.

I stand by all of this, still. But you know what? If I saw this on TV, I’d go out and buy the album. And I’d probably watch the show, too. (I mean how did that cranky guy who seems to hate TV get on TV? That’s nuts! He totally doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would start wearing three piece suits and sleepwalk through 20 years of broadcasting someday.)

There’s so much bounce and energy in the performance and the song is immediate and simple and catchy. The guitar player and bassist look and move like they could be in the Jam and the singer is some lanky weirdo who writes Silvia Plath quotes on the walls of his basement apartment.

But then you get to this and it’s just a clangy headache that makes you thankful there are 40 million other things on the internet to look at.

So what happened? The songs are six years apart, but they sound like they’re from different bands in different decades.

Here’s the deal: REM started off as an American pop tweak on new wave. Over the course of their career, they slowly subtracted the new wave elements. And what was left became one of the most popular bands in the world.

In tempo, minimalism and rhythm, “Radio Free Europe” lines up pretty closely to some more or less contemporary new wave singles recorded between 1978 and 1985. Only it’s less abrasive and earthier, with more harmonies and major chords.

I know there are more songs like this, and maybe I’ll add them later. But let’s stop here, halfway to a pretty sweet mix tape. As new wave became less and less relevant and REM developed their sound, they pretty much stopped all of the uptempo new wave basslines. Which, I think, is a shame.

Also, the verses in “Can’t get there From Here” sounds like Gang of Four with all of the edges polished off.

Published by Mister Bulger

Adam Bulger is the editor in chief of BTRtoday.com and a frequent contributor to the parenting website Fatherly.com. He's also recently written for the wedding site ThePlunge.com and the college student aide Coursehero.com. Less recently, he's written for The Believer, Forbes, The Atlantic's website, Suicidegirls, Inked Magazine and probably about a dozen other places that are too obscure or defunct to bother listing.

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