Story: Journalist Craig Rosen collects anecdotes and information about every song on R.E.M.’s albums from 1981 through 1996. Rosen draws on his own interviews with the band plus many of the articles and books on the band in print at the time to talk about production techniques, instrument lineups, lyrical inspiration and other tidbits. Heavily illustrated.
Review: There are a number of good books about R.E.M., so at first glance it might seem like this relatively short, photo-laden book is superfluous. But its subtitle suggests the niche that Rosen has managed to find and fill quite well. Every song gets at least a few lines of discussion, and many get considerably more. Some of the detail is probably best suited to the hardcore R.E.M. trivia fan who’s interested in things like the source of the siren wail on “Leave,” or why Buck plays drums on the 11th untitled song from Green. On the other hand, someone not fully immersed in the band’s lore might appreciate this quick history that focuses primarily on the band’s recording career (as opposed to live performances, work with other artists, personal biographical information, or political activism, to name a few topics covered in detail elsewhere).
Since R.E.M. credits all songs jointly to the band, one thing I liked about this book was its tracing the origin of many songs. Some emerged fairly spontaneously during rehearsals, jam sessions, or recording. Other times, one of the three musicians would bring in a song which would then be reworked by the group; matching the song to writer gives a little additional perspective on each member’s contribution to the band. There’s also information on
B-sides, videos and TV performances.
Rosen’s writing is generally solid. He’s an unabashed fan of the band, and there’s nary a critical word from him here. I think he sometimes reaches a little bit in his interpretations of some lyrics or attempts to connect one song to another, but overall he handles the material well. The many photos of the band, their influences, and the sources of some of their pop culture references are generally good and make the book easy to read, although they don’t always seem to match up chronologically with the chapters in which they appear.
The book was published in 1997, shortly before Bill Berry’s retirement. It has not been updated to reflect any of the band’s post-Berry work.
Author: Craig Rosen
Publisher: Thunder’s Mouth Press
Pages: 176 pages