Apr 13, 2010

R.E.M. So Much Younger Then.

R.E.M. are right at the top of my list of Bands Who Have Wronged Me1. Once arguably the greatest band on the planet, they have long since passed the point where my girlfriend now insists they died in a tragic plane crash shortly after the release of Automatic for the People. Sadly, the record company—not wanting to let go of a good thing—hired a bunch of look-a-likes and let them release a shitty faux-grunge/glam record (which, had he heard it, might have inspired Kurt Cobain to point the gun in the other direction). When it was clear that Monster was destined to pave landfills all across America, they dug around in the vaults and managed to drop the last of the original band's great songs (Electrolite, Leave) into an otherwise flat and annoying record. R.E.M. Version 2 trundled on, hiding their surrogate status by acting like such monumentally entitled assholes that no one would want to talk to them.


I remember before Monster came out that R.E.M. were talking about how they were going to put away the mandolins and string sections and just make a rock record like they would have done back in the beginning. Needless to say, Monster was not that record. This should have been that record. I remember being so excited, because I'd picked up this bootleg a couple of years before and knew how shit hot they were before they even had a record deal. So Much Younger Then captures them onstage sometime in 1981, probably at Tyrone's, absolutely destroying with a whole set of songs that never made it onto any of their official albums. I still can't fathom why they never put these out. Sure, Chronic Town and Murmur turned out to be masterpieces of new southern gothic, but these songs could have easily caused just as much of a stir had they been their first release.

So Much Younger Then exemplifies so much of what used to make R.E.M. special—fantastic tunes, a wicked sense of humor, and the ability to play like a band on fire. Just listen to them burn through these songs like they were already superstars. As great as they went on to be, they may never have topped this night.

1. Body Count
2. A Different Girl
3. Action
4. Narrator (for the Jacques Cousteau Show)
5. She's Such a Pretty Girl
6. Baby I
7. Permanent Vacation
8. Wait
9. Scheherezade
10. Liza Sez
11. Mystery To Me
12. I Don't Want You Anymore
13. Little Girl
14. Dangerous Times

1. Also on the list, Belle & Sebastian, They Might Be Giants, Smashing Pumpkins, and Poi Dog Pondering. Currently "on notice"? Of Montreal. God, but that last album managed to suck and blow at the same time.

I'm not talking about a band who just isn't as good as it used to be (like The Cure, or The Breeders) that still insists on putting out albums that are sad shadows of their former selves. Bands Who Have Wronged Me have actively worked to destroy and deny all that once made me love them. I can forgive a band for running out of steam, for putting out a boring album, or just trying to cash in on past glory. But when a formerly great band decides to take a big steaming dump on their art, their legacy, and their potential, and then insist they're doing the greatest work of their career and that we should all be nicer to them...well, that just makes me enraged.

2. The back of the album lists one more song, A Girl Like You, but for whatever reason, it doesn't actually appear on the record. Supposedly there is a companion bootleg called Georgia Peaches—Ripe! that continues the show, but I haven't been able to find it anywhere.

So Much Younger Then

3 Blurts:

vaubu said...

I hate to be critical of musicians whose music I love but I can concur on some of the bands that you mentioned. In fact, case in point, I haven't listened to another REM album since Document. I've listened to Green and Out of Time when at friend's houses and there I've enjoyed them, but I don't seek it out at my house. That said I also must say that my sensibilities are often wrong. My first concert as a teenager was with REM and the Feelies and I remember really being impatient with the Feelies set, but now I would do most anything to experience that again, I absolutely love the Feelies music, especially that earlier stuff. The thing with Poidog I can understand too (perhaps Frank Orrall would understand even) but I don't mind leaving someone to explore their own world. (By the way, I would still love to hear the whole Palm Fabric Orchestra album when you get a chance. ) It's funny with They Might Be Giants; now that I have kids I'm really happy to go to one of their shows when they are singing about math or science. Years ago, I think it was 1989 on their 'Don't Don't Don't Let's Start' Tour I felt so very lucky to be in the audience, but they crossed me when they took my harmonica away from me during the intermission. Apparently I was disturbing the serenity of their break with my atonal (but harmonizing) bleating. Later when I went backstage to retrieve my instrument they played 'Good John/Bad John' with me. I was surprised to find their dispositions were the opposite of what I was expecting. I thought the John with the glasses would be the hard-ass. Anywho, spring has sprung and I'm enjoyfullying. All the best to you Egnu-

Egnu Cledge said...

The Feelies are gods. I can't imagine having gotten to see them along with REM in their prime. The re-releases of the first two albums are amazing. I usually can't tell that much of a difference in the sound of remastered albums, but on the first album especially, you can definitely hear stuff that wasn't there before. It really sounds like they're playing in the room with you.

Poi just had such a drastic change in style, I couldn't follow them anymore. It was the way Frank just went after whatever excited him at the moment that made early Poi so wonderful, so if he's still happy doing that, I won't begrudge him.

TMBG....sigh. We adored them back in day. I've probably seen them live more than any other band. In fact, it was attending several shitty concerts in a row, in which they clearly did not give a fuck, that started to sour me on them. That and the sudden turn to kid music. I realize it was probably just a business move--their original fans were old enough to have kids of their own now--but there was nothing in their early albums that would have prevented them from being kid friendly. They just struck me as a band that started to believe their own hype, and actively worked to seem quirky instead of letting their work speak for itself the way it used to. Plus, taking your harmonica was pretty dickish.

craigie* said...

This REM show appears to be cobbled together with tracks from the 10-1-81 Tyrone's show, missing out the released songs. Some of the song titles are still up for discussion of course, but the full track list doesn't include A Girl Like You (the Troggs' song - although the cassette I have of Tyrone's has a portion of a later show at the Peppermint Lounge 10-31-83 which has this and therefore may be the source of these recordings.

I'll happily convert them for you, how do you want them? On CD by mail or 320kbps mp3's?

email me offlist: craigie (at) gmail (dot) com