An acquaintance of mine, Don Zimmerman, writes a satirical blog called REMRing.com, on which he pretends to know something about music. We've had our share of philosophical exchanges -- I highly recommend this one -- and now he has challenged me to an ongoing dialogue during the lead up to, and release of, R.E.M.'s forthcoming album, Collapse Into Now (street date: March 8, 2011).
Here is his opening salvo. I recommend reading it before proceeding to the response below. I also recommend downloading -- for free! -- the new R.E.M. song we discuss, Discoverer, here.
Dear Mr. Zimmer,
Let me first congratulate you on your many fine years of service to major league baseball, especially your championship seasons as Joe Torre's Yankee consigliere. Your services as bench coach provided much-appreciated wisdom and occasional comic relief, and for that I salute you.
Less admirable, though, is your misguided need to compare R.E.M. 2011 to the R.E.M. we both knew and obsessed over some 20-odd years ago. You even contradict yourself by assuming I will list previous R.E.M. albums the new song, Discoverer, reminds me of, in your ill-conceived pre-emptive strike at making a point about it lacking originality, while at the same time going out of your way to reference an R.E.M. track it doesn't remind you of. Both approaches are foolhardy.
Eric, if I can call you by your Internet pen name, I think you are forgetting one obvious, but indisputable fact:
R.E.M. is old.
In fact, the combined age of our three renowned electric minstrels from Athens, Ga., by my rough calculation, is approximately 376 years. And, as I've remarked on more than one occasion, Peter (I-dated-your-grandmother) Buck is, indeed, the motherfucking father of our country.
As hard as it may be to accept, no band of old farts has ever remained as vital as it was 20 years prior, let alone after 31 years, the anniversary R.E.M. will celebrate in April. To expect them to be would be both ridiculous and unfair -- two of the more unsavory qualities in your latest missive.
True, R.E.M. had long been an exception to this rule, making music I'd label essential well into their second decade. But no band is immune to the effects of time, and Michael Stipe would be a pretty immature prick if he still cared about the same things he did when he was in college. There are only so many songs one can write about paranoid schizophrenics attacking news anchors or one's own frustrations with being a media sensation. Eventually one becomes content -- and their art starts to suck.
As R.E.M. fans, we've been extremely lucky. We've only suffered through one truly awful record out of 14. We both know what that record is, and it will not be named here.
Granted, the new track's production leaves something to be desired and the lyrics can't hold a candle to Stipe during his heyday. Still, its chorus of shouts, coupled with Buck's blaring guitar, Mike Mills' thumping bass and Bill Rieflin's driving drumkit, is about as thrilling a moment as one can expect from a 31-year-old band -- and it's not even the first single, which all but a select few have yet to hear.
Discoverer, just because it is not What's The Frequency, Kenneth?, is neither a bad song, nor is it the worst opening cut of their distinguished career.
What it is, to you, is disappointing.
And that's your fault -- not R.E.M.'s.