Editor’s note: On the 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.
“I have a controversial opinion about this album: I like it a lot.” — Scott on Reveal
“If this isn’t a hit, I don’t know what the problem is.” — Adam on “Imitation of Life”
Sharp-eyed readers of these reviews may have deduced that I am a big fan of R.E.M. I’m fully aware that I lack any real objectivity about the band, its catalog and even some of their haircuts. So it will come as no shock that I was beating the drum hard for Reveal when it was released in May 2001.
R.E.M., despite the departure of Bill Berry and the lukewarm reaction from the mainstream to its previous album, was still one of the biggest bands in the world. But, much like Adam demanding more admiration from his friends for Up, I seemed to be fighting R.E.M. battles at every bar, restaurant and ball game I went to. “R.E.M. is still here and just as great as ever!” I would loudly yell to almost every person that came within earshot after a beer or three.
Reveal also happened to be released one month after my wife Carrie and I were officially engaged, and one month before another sweat-drenched Georgia summer kicked in. Scott and Adam do a great job of conveying the “feel” of this album—bright, warm and breezy, it just “feels like summer.”
“Imitation of Life” became the song played and repeated many times over courtesy of Carrie’s giant 100-disc, trunk-installed CD changer—Scott is right, streaming just doesn’t feel or sound the same—as she and I took the long drive over and over again to Savannah to visit her family and make preparations for our wedding there in December. The album made those drives a joy, and as far as I knew, “Imitation of Life” was the song of the summer, and Reveal was widely loved.
Then, I noticed something: No one else seemed to be talking about the record or the incredible and endlessly rewatchable video for “Imitation of Life.” What was everyone doing? What were they listening to?! I’d ask friends and co-workers if they bought the album, and it was as if they were in a fog. “Oh yeah, I think I knew they put out a new record—is it any good?”
“YES, IT IS VERY GOOD,” I would angrily reply, and then play them “Imitation of Life,” which, of course, they loved—and that was it. For some reason, this record lacked object permanence. People fell in love with “The Lifting” and “All the Way to Reno” when I would play them, but as soon as I left their eyeline—poof, it vanished. Adam seems to have shared my pain, particularly for the reception to “Imitation of Life”—one of the catchiest, ear-wormiest songs in the entire R.E.M. catalog. Why did we take this so personally? Why did I care? If this wasn’t a hit, what did R.E.M. need to do?!
Looking back now, I can begin to understand. I found R.E.M. over 10 years before—right as the band was riding up the wave and about to hit the heights of worldwide stardom—and for those 10 years, it was MY favorite band that everyone loved. I could bring up that one part where Stipe laughs in “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” and know that people understood what I was talking about. But tastes and trends change—sometimes for NO GOOD REASON (still bitter)—and by 2001, the masses had moved on.
And you know what? It was fine. Nothing really changed. R.E.M. released a fantastic album that I still listen to regularly. It gave us an all-timer of a pop song with a video that has to rank among the greats. (Watch it below and you’ll see.) And a lot of other people decided to listen to worse music. (OK, so maybe I’m not ALL the way over it.) For someone like me, who never knew of R.E.M. as anything other than one of the most recognizable bands on the planet, it was a shock.
But it’s cool—the 10 years following Reveal would produce some of my favorite songs and favorite memories of the band. Today when I hear Reveal, I instantly think of the year I was married, of long car rides through small towns near Savannah and of summers in Athens in the days after college but well before kids.
So, as another hot August in Athens begins to give way to fall, let’s raise a glass to Reveal, R.E.M.’s beautiful album for every summer.
- Premieres of minisodes: #likemywallet, #moneycliptrain, #notonmyshow, #ibelievethisisanepisodeofsomething and #something;
- For the entirety of 1989, a young Edgar Wright’s wardrobe consisted only of his R.E.M. Green tour T-shirt and a Michael Keaton Batman T-shirt;
- Scott calling out the inclusion of Air Supply’s “I Can Wait Forever” on the Ghostbusters soundtrack as it only appears in the movie for about one-and-a-half seconds as a mover has it playing through his muffled headphones as he quickly walks through frame. That always frustrated me;
- The Edgar/Scott/Adam Blur vs. Oasis breakdown. For the record, I love them both, but I’m in camp Oasis;
- Scott pointing out in re: “The Great Beyond”: “That must have been a difficult ask: ‘Hey guys, please write another amazing song about Andy Kaufman’”;
- High marks to Edgar’s Top 10 list for including “Begin the Begin” and “These Days”;
- Very surprised to learn that Adam doesn’t love “The Great Beyond” OR “All the Way to Reno”;
- I will never be able to listen to “At My Most Beautiful” again without thinking about Bob Odenkirk;
- Proper and earned respect given to both the “Great Beyond” video (Edgar loved it) and the video for “Imitation of Life”;
- Edgar Wright must be an avid reader of this column, as he issued his OWN set of corrections via Twitter following his appearance on the show, noting, “Michael Cera did NOT play young Andy Kaufman in the movie Man on the Moon”. Which leads us to…
- Adam Scott can do a push-up;
- The band R.E.M. was made up of the following members: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe. NOT: Stripe the gremlin, Gizmo the mogwai, Hoyt Axton and Zach Galligan. Furthermore, Kate Pierson was featured as backup singer on the album Out of Time, not Phoebe Cates;
- Queen Elizabeth II did not “constantly DJ on BBC Radio in the mid-1980s”;
- Scott’s favorite Blur song is not “My Name is Blur and I’m Here to Say,” as no such Blur song exists;
- Orchestral conductors’ batons are not uncooked spaghetti noodles;
- Scott is not Batman;
- There is no reason to still be scared of the Y2K computer bug;
- Peter Buck is not constantly mumbling “I’m Peter Buck, I’m Peter Buck” and then making drum and fart noises in the background of every song on the new Arthur Buck album;
- The cartoon character Bugs Bunny is a bunny, not a swarm of bees;
- Self-driving cars can not be arrested nor put on trial for murder;
- No one calls granola “g-dawg gree-go”;
- The band Train’s biggest hit was not “Choo Choo”;
- The R.E.M. song “Chorus and the Ring” is not about the popular horror movie The Ring, nor does it include the lyric, “You’ll die if you watch it within three days”;
- Adam Scott is not famously known for saying the catchphrase “I’m having Funyuns!”
Stone Cold Classics:
“Imitation of Life”: One of R.E.M.’s most underrated songs AND its best video. For a great recap on how it was made, check this out.
“All the Way to Reno”: I love the pure joy, the smiles on their faces in this video. It always makes me happy.
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