The passing of R.E.M. several months back was a sad but hardly surprising event. Bands don’t usually stick together for three decades. The ones that do have often worn out their welcome long ago. While we liked R.E.M.’s last proper album, Collapse Into Now (which guest blogger and R.E.M. fan Andrew Cashmere reviewed here), it’s safe to say nothing the band has done since Automatic For The People rivaled its early output.
As Matthew Perpetua (oh to be named after a font!) writes in Pitchfork, R.E.M.’s constant evolution — or, as he puts it, “throwing curveballs at their audience” from Reckoning on — “gave listeners valid reasons to jump ship along the way.” He goes on,
It makes just as much sense to enjoy all their records as it does for someone who favors Peter Buck’s early jangle-centric guitar style to recoil at his flamboyantly distorted tone on Monster, or for fans of their immensely popular chamber pop records Out of Time and Automatic for the People to shrug off the skewed, highly politicized arena rock of their late 80s records.
He’s arguing, persuasively, that R.E.M. evolved so completely over thirty years that they managed to alienate virtually all their fans at some point along the way. (We, for one, still loathe Monster.) The band also had a real knack for defying the current musical moment. Automatic For The People, easily the band’s most beautiful album to listen to, arrived in 1992, smack dab in the middle of Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
What Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982-2011, the first career-spanning compilation of R.E.M.’s hits, does is draw a throughline from Murmur to Collapse Into Now and remind you just how many great songs R.E.M. wrote over the years. Besides the obvious inclusions like “Radio Free Europe,” “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Stand” are our personal favorites like “Driver 8,” “Fall On Me” and “Electrolyte.” We concur with Perpetua that everything “through at least the middle of the second disc is unimpeachable,” though we would’ve found some way to slip in Automatic’s “Find The River.” (The one Monster track included is the perfectly acceptable “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”)
The second disc includes three previously unreleased tracks, including the wistful, strings-and-horns Burt Bacharach number “We All Go Back To Where We Belong.” The lyrics are more straightforward than the band’s early years but still impressionistic and tricky to decipher. Whatever they mean, they certainly evoke a sense of farewell. “I will write our story in my mind/Write about our dreams and triumphs/This might be my ‘Innocence Lost,'” Michael Stipe sings. Part Lies may not be R.E.M.’s ‘Innocence Lost,’ but it’s a welcome reminder of the band’s influence over the past three decades, and more than a fitting end to a remarkable career.