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R.E.M. through Flint’s eyes – the epilogue

15/11/2011
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It would be a very wonderfully dramatic way to start an article by saying that R.E.M. have now officially released their very last release, with the advent of Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage which contains three brand-new/final songs, but we all know that’s not a very likely scenario. For one, there’s already been confirmation that the recent line of deluxe edition re-releases are going to stretch to the Warner releases as well, and quite frankly at this age of re-releases the idea that Automatic for the People etc won’t get their super special anniversary versions is rather bizarre. Second, I want the label to further cash in on the legacy; more accurately, I want a b-sides/rarities/unreleased treasures compilation. The bigger the better.

Still, this is where we are now. I can’t say I’m 100% happy with how Part Lies Etc turned out. Of course, trying to sum up over 30 years of music into two discs is more or less insane in itself and of course there was always going to be problems with that, but some of the decisions are still baffling. The lack of “E-Bow the Letter” which is a crime upon itself, the inclusion of “Sitting Still” and “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” (both perfectly good album tracks but really not songs for a retrospective, especially when all the other album track inclusions on the comp are excellent and logical) and passing over a fair few albums with only one song from each (and, in the case of Up, that song being completely unrepresentative of its parent album) are all rather daft decisions and ones that can get fanboys grumbling quietly to themselves for ages. But nonetheless, regardless of said grumbles, it’s a wonderful testament to 30 years of amazing musicianship and immortal songs: there’s always something special in listening to career-encompassing retrospective comps after a long time of being a fan, and doubly so when dealing with something as monumental as R.E.M.

But of course, there are the three new songs which is what an old fan is most interested in. This trio represents the band’s final signatures on their legacy, and they have an immense pressure on them due to closing off a retrospective of glory. Which is why “A Month of Saturdays” is a rather awkward start: it screams if not throwaway then a b-side. It reminds me a lot of the band’s instrumental studio jams they’ve spammed their singles with throughout the years, albeit with vocals this time. You could argue that it showcases the fun side of R.E.M. to fill that slot in the band’s final trio of songs, but it could do that with a stronger tune. That said, the other two songs more than make up for it. “We All Go Back to Where We Belong”, the VERY FINAL FOREVER single, is a perfect send-off for the band. It’s wistful without being sad, sentimental without being soppy and powerful without being in-your face. In fact, it’s a very somber and understated song instead of the sort of tearjerker epic you could expect as a band’s very last single. It’s the understatedness that makes it so powerful: it’s simply a beautiful, peaceful and incredibly lush song, with some immortally good melodies, typically R.E.M.-esque feel and some wonderful orchestration. It’s the perfect walk into the sunset. Which it technically isn’t because there’s still “Hallelujah”, a gloomy and introverted pseudo-rocker that twirls in its own word rather excellently for a while before disappearing into the ether. A guaranteedly good R.E.M. song, even if not perhaps a great one.

My perfect send-off for this retrospective series was placed after the last part. Rather than wasting time repeating myself again, or trying to come up with another final paragraph (my nemesis) about R.E.M. quitting, I’m simply going to say I’m overall very pleased with the finish we’ve been given. R.E.M. bows out with grace and one hell of a compilation.

One of the very greatest bands ever.

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