But back to REM. My years as a teenager coincided with REM's first eruption as global superstars in the early 1990s (I was 13 when Automatic for the People was released, though I didn't get into the band until a couple of years later), so they were pretty hard to ignore. Their oddball mix of acoustic melancholia and occasionally-satisfying rock-out moments was highly appealing, and I lapped up most of their albums in this period. Automatic and Document are two of my favourite albums of all time, and I highly rate Fables of the Reconstruction, Murmur, Out of Time, Green and New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Monster was probably a bit of a misstep (for albums that bring the rock, there are much more impressive mid-90s alternatives, though some tracks are very good) but I found Up to be an interesting experiment with changing their sound and bringing in new elements in the wake of drummer Bill Berry's departure. Reveal was, for me, a storming return to their normal melodic form, but Around the Sun was flat-out terrible, a low point that they recovered from with enthusiasm with the fast-paced Accelerate. Their latest - and now last - album has gotten enough mixed reviews that I haven't tried it yet, though now I think I will give it a go for old time's sake.
Sadly, I only got to see REM play live once, in July 2005 at Hyde Park in London. It was the end of their huge Around the Sun tour and they were clearly tired. But, just a week after the 07/07 bombings in London (and, though of course we didn't know it at the time, a week before a second attempted bombing attack on the city) when people were feeling a bit down, REM did a great job of getting people up and moving. Most surprising was when, instead of plumping for a cheap, sentimental and obvious rendition of 'Everybody Hurts' as a lesser band would have, they turned it up into an angry burst of guitar-driven defiance that was counter-intuitive and worked brilliantly.
So farewell to REM. Good on them for knowing when to quit, and if they decide to reform in ten years' time for another tour I won't hold it against them too much :-)
Here's a live performance of 'Country Feedback' from the Jools Holland Show in 1998 (later included as a B-side to the UK release of 'At My Most Beautiful'), featuring legendary steel pedal guitarist BJ Cole as well as core bandmembers Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck: