Monday, 19 January 2015

From Inside The Pod Revisited #7

I've made much of the part R.E.M. has played in my life on this blog, but back when I was doing From Inside The Pod, they broke up. I marked the news by compiling a podcast of R.E.M. cover versions. It was one of my most popular postings when it first appeared.

Here it is again for your enjoyment, complete with the original notes. Enjoy.

Pod 19: A Carnival Of Sorts
(first published 23 September 2011)

REM split up this week. In a way I'm glad. They kind of lost the plot a while ago, and of the last five albums, there's only one I think I can honestly say I truly like - 2008's 'Accelerate'.

But I used to love REM. I mean really, really, really love them. When I was 16, a mate at college lent me the cassette of 'Document'. It was REM's fifth album, but the first thing I had ever heard by them. It blew me away, and for the next 15 years or so, I was a hopeless addict, a "DiStiple". When I think of the time and money I spent tracking down rare early singles, promos, collectables, bootlegs, videos... you name it, if REM had as much as breathed on it, I had to have it.

When Bill Berry left, something changed but I carried on regardless, defending the rather bloated 'Up' album in 1998 to the hilt. But when 'Reveal' came out in 2001, I just couldn't do it any longer. It was a poor, poor record by their standards, and by then, I had discovered the White Stripes who were infinitely more exciting. I hoped it was a one-off, but sadly, 'Around The Sun' was so stupendously dire, it was the first REM record I never bought. The candle was burning out.

Today, I still listen to 'Document', 'Lifes Rich Pageant' and 'Fables of the Reconstruction' (my top 3) with great fondness, and all those 80s records, going right back to Radio Free Europe in 1981, really mattered. REM mean a lot to me for all kinds of personal reasons too (which I won't bore you with here), but the time was right to call it a day.

So, as a mark of respect, I dedicate this very special, hastily-compiled podcast to one of the most important and influential rock & roll bands of my lifetime. A collection of REM covers by a myriad of artists ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, which in essence I suppose kind of sums up REM's career. I've tried to avoid most of the obvious ones - great songs they may be, but I'm just so utterly sick to death of Losing My Religion, Everybody Hurts and Man On The Moon - and in the interests of brevity (a technique REM should have employed a little more often in their later years), I've kept it to 9 tracks which still takes it over the magic 30-minute mark.

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that for the first time there is no Welsh artist here. That's because I couldn't find any good REM covers by Welsh acts. The nearest I got was Feeder's Everybody Hurts, but aside from it being one of those aforementioned tracks, it really wasn't very good. However, Gene vocalist Martin Rossiter is Welsh. Not enough to merit a little Welsh flag though...

Finally, I could find no covers of any REM songs post-'Monster'. That in itself is telling...

1. Editors Orange Crush (2006, 'Q: Covered - 86/06')
original from 'Green', 1988
R.E.M.'s first Top 40 hit in the UK, it saw them debut on Top Of The Pops. At the song's conclusion, the moronic presenter that evening said: "Mmm, that would be nice on a hot day - 'Orange Crush' by R.E.M.", completely missing that the song was about chemical warfare and the use of the nerve gas Agent Orange in the Vietnam war! Editors' brilliant full-blooded cover was so well liked by Messrs Stipe, Buck and Mills that they returned the compliment and covered the Birmingham band's single Munich.

2. The Decemberists Cuyahoga (2011, free download only)
original from 'Lifes Rich Pageant', 1986
The latest album from the Portland, OR. folkies was not only heavily influenced by R.E.M., but also featured a certain Peter Buck. This version of Cuyahoga simply oozes the folk traditions the band tries to emulate while staying true to the utterly wonderful original which is one of my faves.

3. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Stand (1999, 'Plays the Music Of R.E.M.')
original from 'Green', 1988
The RPO have made a number of tribute albums, most of which are patchy, but contain the occasional gem. This is undoubtedly one of those gems. It's so unashamedly upbeat, it makes the original sound almost funereal!

4. Weezer Oddfellow's Local 151 (2008, b-side of Pork And Beans)
original from 'Document', 1987
'Document' has to go down as one of the most significant records in my life. It was my epiphany in so many ways. The first time I heard Stipe's rasping voice I was unsure what to make of it, but by the time the album's closer came around, with its almost desperate strains of "FIIIRRRRRRREHOOOOOOUUUUUUUSE!", I was totally convinced this was a band I would adore for a long time to come. Weezer's Rivers Cuomo doesn't attempt to emulate Stipe's conviction, but the menacing muted guitars are retained.

5. Grant-Lee Phillips So. Central Rain (2006, 'nineteeneighties')
original from 'Reckoning', 1984
This has to be right up there with the Editors on my list of best R.E.M. covers. While the original shimmers with Buck's Rickenbacker arpeggios, Grant-Lee Phillips' beautiful rendering adds a dark, almost vulnerable tenderness to the song and seems to also incorporate an element of Drive from 'Automatic For The People'.

6. The Moog Cookbook The One I Love (1996, 'The Moog Cookbook')
original from 'Document', 1987
I know I said I'd tried to avoid the obvious songs, but I just couldn't resist this. If it doesn't make you grin like a fool, you're probably dead. The Moog Cookbook were a duo who used nothing but vintage analogue Moog synths in their music. They released a couple of covers albums in the 90s, this version of R.E.M.'s breakthrough hit appearing on their debut.

7. Gene Nightswimming (1997, b-side of Where Are They Now?)
original from 'Automatic For The People', 1992
Despite being touted as a Britpop band, Gene had an awful lot more about them than the vast majority of others in that short-lived scene, releasing some of the best singles of the decade. The Morrissey-esque delivery of Martin Rossiter was definitely suited to Michael Stipe's paen to skinny-dipping in the dark.

8.Pavement Camera (1994, b-side of Cut Your Hair)
original from 'Reckoning', 1984
Californian indie legends who were simultaneously loved by fans and critics and loathed by the likes of Mark E. Smith, Billy Corgan and Beavis & Butthead! This re-styling of Camera featured on their classic single Cut Your Hair and features some rather, erm, challenging vocal work from Stephen Malkmus...

9. Blanche Find The River (2007, 'Drive XV: A Tribute To Automatic For The People')
original from 'Automatic For The People', 1992
At one time voted the best R.E.M. song of all time by fans, Find The River closed their biggest-selling and most well-known album, and it somehow feels appropriate to round off this tribute to the band's amazing career. This version appeared on a Stereogum covers project for 'Automatic For The People''s 15th anniversary, and is performed by Detroit's very wonderful Blanche who really do need to release a third album soon. It's been too long.

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