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Believe the Stipe
Michael Stipe talks about REM's new album Accelerate, looks back at their 'working rehearsals' in Dublin and explains how their Irish-born producer helped them through their mid-life crisis.
Dave Fanning, 06 Mar 2008
John Updike might have scripted it. Cameron Crowe might have made a film of it. Whatever way you look at it, there’s no escaping mid-life crisis, even – especially – in rock ‘n’ roll.
REM were avatars of the 1980s American underground, unlikely Georgian incumbents who built an empire out of a cottage industry and made the transition from indie to major label with a sense of ethics that saw them venerated by artists like Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Thom Yorke as examples of how to maintain punk credibility in the MTV age. For the first 15 years of their career, the band barely put a foot wrong, touring incessantly, each consecutive album expanding their artistic parameters and their fanbase, culminating in the critical and commercial peak of 1992’s Automatic For The People.
Then came the turbulence. Monster (1994) was a fuzzy-sounding and fuzzily-conceived collection boosted by the group’s first world tour in years, hampered by drummer Bill Berry’s aneurysm, Mike Mills’s abdominal surgery and Michael Stipe’s hernia operation. New Adventures In Hi-Fi (1996) received reviews to kill for, but nevertheless signaled an end to the band’s golden age of big sales and critical acclaim.
Following the departure of Berry in 1997, REM seemed to lose some of their essential magic. Up and Reveal were immaculately crafted albums, but something was missing, and 2004’s Around The Sun received the most lukewarm response of the band’s career. They remained a dependable live proposition (although Peter Buck was increasingly starting to look like a guest in his own band), but seemed somehow adrift in the post 9/11 age of anxiety.
Last June the quartet decamped to Dublin’s Olympia for a week of ‘live rehearsals’, and spectators were heartened to see a much more rough and ready band winging it through a set of promisingly short, sharp and serrated tunes, many of which had been recorded in Vancouver and at Grouse Lodge, Co. Westmeath, by Irish producer Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee (U2, Snow Patrol, Bloc Party).