An honest musical hot-take on R.E.M.

Written for The Argo by Ethan Herzinger

It’s no question that I’m a music nerd and is what will always keep me going. Now, I know what you’re thinking? There’s got to be a band or a specific artist that he can’t be fond of? The answer might surprise you, but it’s a fact. I have had my fair share of bands that I didn’t like at all (at first). I didn’t care for U2 for the longest time. I had no problem with The Edge and the other band members (though I admit now that in my opinion, The Edge isn’t the most groundbreaking guitarist) Nope.

My problem was with Bono. I thought he was preachy and full of himself. It was also because I was so used to F.M. rock radio playing the same hits repeatedly. But then I realized something . If I can love Bruce Springsteen even though he can be political, why couldn’t I give a liking to U2? Once I discovered their first L.P. Boy and dug deeper into 1983’s War, I swung in the other direction.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “What does U2 have to do with this R.E.M. hot take?” Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve listened to a boatload of bands and artists in my life, and I can honestly say that R.E.M. just doesn’t cut it for me. The first part of my disliking can come from the constant radio play of their most popular tunes. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine), I would be a millionaire. Now just like U2, I wanted to give the same treatment to R.E.M., so, like any good music nerd, I started from the beginning of their catalog.

Here’s the hot take. The bands sound and their songwriting doesn’t bother me. When R.E.M. released their first L.P. in 1983 titled Murmur, the record’s sound and production were reasonably expected at the time for lots of new-wave rock acts. Other factors that do not bother me are guitarist Peter Buck and drummer Bill Berry. I find Bill Berry to be a solid drummer, and Peter Buck is an extraordinarily gifted and underrated guitarist.

The playing of the latter reminds me of a combination of both James Honeymoon Scott and Johnny Marr. My problem and what makes the buck stop for me is lead singer Michael Stripe. I can’t stand for the life of me his vocal approach. I find his vocal technique to be throbbing and whiny to no end. I just don’t understand why a lead singer can sound the way he does with a band that clearly knows how to play their instruments. The song that can back up my opinion is their hit “The One I Love.” Everything about the song musically sounds excellent. The track is polished, and Peter Buck’s guitar riff is killer while Berry lays a simple yet effective beat. Once again, Stripe’s vocals just turn me off completely.

That’s my hot take on Alt rock superstars R.E.M. I might be coming off as a Lester Bangs or Robert Christgau, but I have my own crazy opinions just like them.

Categories: Entertainment