Editor's note: On the new comedy podcast "R U Talkin' R.E.M. RE: ME?", hosts Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott dive deep into the legendary Athens band's discography. Local superfan Tim Kelly is reviewing the podcast for Flagpole.
“Listening to this must be what it's like to live in England—boring.”
—Scott speculating on why "E-Bow the Letter" was such a big hit in the UK
“This is my favorite album since Life’s Rich Pageant.”
—Also Scott, later on in the episode
Sometimes music grabs you by the shirt, rips a few buttons off and doesn’t let go. That song, a beat, this album, becomes an instant favorite and you remember where you were, what you were doing and who you were with when you fell in love with it. But sometimes it takes a while, a few listens, a few years, before you truly come to appreciate it. And so began my experience with New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
My favorite segment of each "RUTREM" episode is hearing Scott and Adam recall where they were when each of the R.E.M. albums were released. To hear the intersections of these albums with the path of their careers—Scott started his professional relationship with Bob and David! Adam in a project with Mary Tyler Moore!—timestamps their lives and my own in a way that gives the album a newfound poignance. Listening to this episode brought back the memories of how I, the self-professed and wildly incorrect “biggest 18-year-old R.E.M. fan in the world”—the one who moved 10 hours away just to go to school in their city—largely forgot about one of the band’s albums for a year.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi was released on Sept. 9, 1996. I was dropped off at the University of Georgia for my freshman year of college just five days prior. I didn’t know a single person within 650 miles, but I did know Michael, Peter, Mike and Bill. That was enough right? I’d wow the town with my knowledge and appreciation for the band! My new classmates and I would talk for hours in the dining hall discussing the lyrics of “World Leader Pretend”; I’d hang out at Wuxtry with hip Athens types chatting up favorite B-sides. Alas, those proved to be lonely days.
But as some—not all, but some—18-year-olds in a new city do, I found my place. And while it wasn’t necessarily backstage at the 40 Watt or behind the counter at Wuxtry, it was a fantastic place for me: getting to be an 18-year-old freshman in Athens. What wasn’t always included in those early days was R.E.M. I was flooded with new places, new streets, new friends, new everything. College dominated my life. Chaos. Through new friends, new experiences, new music was found… but New Adventures in Hi-Fi was lost. Oh, I bought it and I listened, but I didn’t listen like I had with Automatic—the endless repeats and micro-analyzation of each track, each note.
It took at least a year to adapt to new surroundings and feel comfortable in my new home, until I heard "Bittersweet" Me on 103.7 FM, “The Bulldog.” I felt like a sleepwalker being shaken into consciousness, the brainwashed assassin being snapped back to reality: “What had I been doing? Where am I? How could I have let this happen?!” I devoured it over the next few days, and the album has since become a favorite. "Electrolite" should be included on every mixtape, "So Fast So Numb" (calling you out, Scott) on every movie soundtrack, "Leave" as a cover in every live set for every band ever. This is a fantastic album.
And yet, it doesn’t hold sway over me like other albums. That's a testament to the power of nostalgia. How closely we define and categorize something we love with where we were or who we were with when we heard it. New Adventures is undoubtedly one of the best R.E.M. albums and, at the same time, not one of my favorites. But that’s no indictment—I’m just thankful I found it, if maybe a year too late.
Tim’s Stone-Cold Classics: