10 Bands That Owe R.E.M. a Round
R.E.M. may have come from the South, but they’re not merely a “Southern rock band.” The foursome from Athens, Ga., has influenced musicians across the globe, and during their three-decade run, they managed to weather changing musical trends, lineup changes and everything in between, leaving behind numerous classic albums and proving just how far an alternative rock band could go. While there’s no shortage of musicians who ought to send Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry effusive thank-you cards, the ones on this list might go a step further and pony up for drinks. Behold: 10 bands that owe R.E.M. a round.
Manic Street Preachers
R.E.M. never shied away from social and political activism, and now that they’re gone, a number of bands continue to carry the torch. R.E.M. expressed their views in song long before doing so was popular — ‘Orange Crush,’ in case you were wondering, is about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, not soda — and continued to be outspoken until the very end. (Check out 2008’s ‘Houston,’ a condemnation of the U.S. government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina victims.) Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers make no bones about their activism, either, and they’ve even taken legal action against the far-right English Defence League for its use of the band’s 1998 staunchly anti-fascism song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.’
R.E.M. weren’t exactly a cheery band — ‘Shiny Happy People’ notwithstanding — and that’s one of the reasons we love them. The same goes for the National, whose ‘The Perfect Song’ is, well, sort of perfect — provided one defines perfection as living inside a Raymond Carver short story. ‘Perfect Song’ conjures R.E.M. at their most pensive, calling to mind songs like the great latter-day single ‘Imitation of Life.’
Thumbing his nose at expectations, Beck has gone his own weird way for more than two decades, exploring whatever genre holds his interest at a given moment. He’s even been known to inject a little country-style jangle into the proceedings, as he does in ‘Farewell Ride’ (off 2005’s ‘Guero’). R.E.M., too, were always keen experimenters — sometimes with twang. See ‘Bandwagon,’ off 1987’s ‘Dead Letter Office,’ for similar country styling.
Dinosaur Jr.‘s ability to be musical chameleons makes them very much like R.E.M., and like Stipe and co., they’ve never been interested in taking on trends. They simply manage to channel honest sentiment without sugarcoating it. ‘Bulbs of Passion’ tastes like R.E.M.’s ‘Talk About the Passion’ left out to stew, and it doesn’t go down as bitter as you’d think.
Of Monsters and Men
The music of Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men bears some happy resemblances to R.E.M. Female lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir sings with a sunny, lovely lilt, which contrasts Michael Stipe’s low tenor, but the similarities lie in the tunes. Compare Of Monsters and Men’s bubbly ‘Mountain Sound’ with R.E.M.’s infectious ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.’
Eels — a “band” that consists mostly of just Mark Oliver Everett — are a prolific act that delivers truly masterful songwriting dotted with unapologetically raw emotion. Need we say more? ‘My Timing Is Off’ (from 2009’s ‘Hombre Lobo’) could easily be a lost R.E.M. b-side circa ‘Automatic for the People.’
In ‘Unseen Power of the Picket Fence,’ Pavement dedicate an entire song to R.E.M. And for good reason. Pavement were fixtures of college radio, a format our boys from Georgia all but invented.
Pet Shop Boys
Pet Shop Boys formed in 1981, a year after R.E.M., and both the British synth-poppers and Southern janglers became known in the ’80s as exemplars of confessional songwriting. A lot of the era’s bands got bogged down in maudlin lyrics, but R.E.M. managed to maintain a degree of levity, and over the years, PSB have done likewise, arguably taking a page out of the Georgia boys’ playbook.
Editors occasionally get compared to bands that have a darker sound than R.E.M.’s, but the two bands have a lot in common. Editors’ ‘The Weight of Your Love’ holds its own against ‘Document’-era R.E.M. tunes like ‘Disturbance at the Heron House.’ Check out Editors’ ‘A Ton of Love’ for proof.
Doves often don’t get credit for their hard-charging songwriting and openness to experimentation, but they should — and in many ways, R.E.M. paved the way. ‘Here It Comes,’ the title track of a 1999 EP, conjures up R.E.M. at their most propulsive.