March 8, 2011, marked the release of R.E.M.’s 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now, easily one of the band’s most diverse offerings and undeniably one of their finest. The Independent, UK lauded the record for its “recurrent themes of conclusion, starting over and rebuilding [which] lend it a muscular sense of purpose.” In the opinion of many reviewers Collapse went from strength to strength, highlighted by powerful opener Discoverer, rockers like All The Best and Alligator, which gave fans something to sink their collective teeth into, along with gorgeously reflective tracks like It Happened Today, Uberlin, Oh My Heart, and Walk It Back which revealed a band still capable of situating the majestically elegiac alongside the primitive and howling. It was a powerful concoction and left many wondering where the band would go next.
Little did anyone realize at the time that six months later it would be “time,” as Michael sang in the chorus of All The Best, “to get on with the rest…” After 31 years of making music together, the band would “call it a day” in September as revealed in an announcement on remhq.com. R.E.M.’s final time playing “out” as a group would be at Hansa Studios in Berlin:
The release of Collapse Into Now was followed by an equally impressive film project, spearheaded by Michael who hand-selected a host of directors, each tasked with setting the music from a particular song from the band’s final studio album to film. In an interview with NME.com Michael said, “It was really fun for me to curate, working with all these different artists, and seeing how they interpreted the songs. The thing that was surprising is how much they interlockingly work, like an album.” Directors such as Sam Taylor-Wood, Dominic DeJoseph, Jim Herbert, Jem Cohen, Jim McKay, Sophie Calle, Lance Bangs, Albert Maysles, and Tom Gilroy were among the luminaries. The nytimes.com covered the Project’s exhibition at the Clocktower Gallery in NYC.
July 2011 was a fertile month for R.E.M. as the 25th anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant was released on the 12th. The remastered version of the 1986 classic featured an extra disc including the “Athens Demos” along with all-new liner notes by music journalist and author Parke Puterbaugh. The 2CD package, presented in a lift-top box with a poster and four postcards in addition to the extra disc, received universal acclaim in numerous reviews…
On July 13th, a message from Michael along with an a cappela chorus from Man on the Moon he recorded for the occasion, and the studio version of Man on the Moon were transmitted to space to the last space shuttle crew as part of their morning wake-up songs. Michael had the following to say about this historic experience:
“I recorded ‘Man On The Moon’ for NASA in Venice, Italy, where Galileo first presented to the Venician government his eight-power telescope, and in 1610 wrote ‘The Starry Messenger'(Sidereus Nuncius), an account of his early astronomical discoveries that altered forever our view of our place in the universe.”
On September 21, 2011, the band posted the following announcement on remhq.com informing fans of their decision to “call it a day”:
“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.”
Later in the day, each band member added his own personal reflection:
“During our last tour, and while making Collapse Into Now and putting together this greatest hits retrospective, we started asking ourselves, ‘what next’? Working through our music and memories from over three decades was a hell of a journey. We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together.
“We have always been a band in the truest sense of the word. Brothers who truly love, and respect, each other. We feel kind of like pioneers in this–there’s no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We’ve made this decision together, amicably and with each other’s best interests at heart. The time just feels right.”
“A wise man once said–‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it.
“I hope our fans realize this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.
“We have to thank all the people who helped us be R.E.M. for these 31 years; our deepest gratitude to those who allowed us to do this. It’s been amazing.”
“One of the things that was always so great about being in R.E.M. was the fact that the records and the songs we wrote meant as much to our fans as they did to us. It was, and still is, important to us to do right by you. Being a part of your lives has been an unbelievable gift. Thank you.
“Mike, Michael, Bill, Bertis, and I walk away as great friends. I know I will be seeing them in the future, just as I know I will be seeing everyone who has followed us and supported us through the years. Even if it’s only in the vinyl aisle of your local record store, or standing at the back of the club: watching a group of 19 year olds trying to change the world.”
Over the coming days, friends, fans, journalists, and fellow artists expressed their appreciation for the band’s music and legacy and paid tribute to the guys in articles, blogs, videos, and personal reflections. We collected many of them at remhq.com:
On October 4th, a trailer for the band’s 40-song Greatest Hits Retrospective: R.E.M. Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982-2011 was posted:
The definitive greatest hits album was released on November 15th and included tracks from both the IRS and Warner years plus three brand-new songs. One of the new tracks, We All Go Back to Where We Belong was released as a single on October 18th. Michael and Dominic DeJoseph directed two films for the single featuring Kirsten Dunst and John Giorno:
In conjunction with the release of R.E.M Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982-2011, a “Greatest Hits” website was launched where fans contributed memories, thoughts, comments, personal videos, covers and photos spanning R.E.M.’s 31 years as a band.
Read some of the reviews of “Part Lies” in addition to some of the press the guys did for the record here.
The release was also celebrated in Athens with the final album release parties at the Georgia Theatre, 40 Watt, and Cine. Bands included The Corduroy Road, David Barbe and the Quick Hooks, Futurebirds, Grogus, Jack Logan and Coventry Climax, John Keane and NathanSheppard, Kevn Kinney, Lera Lynn, Nanny Island, Romper Stompers (feat. Todd Nance of Widespread Panic, William Tonks & Jon Mills of Barbara Cue, and Daniel Hutchens of Bloodkin), 706, and Thayer Sarrano. The fundraisers raised approximately $50,000 for local non-profit organizations Community Connection of Northeast Georgia & Family Connection / Communities in Schools of Athens / Whatever It Takes and included a special appearance by Mike Mills who joined a number of the bands on stage as they performed songs from R.E.M.’s catalog.
In one of the best “year-end” articles of 2011, Chris Heath from gq.com assessed the significance of R.E.M.’s split:
And millions of Americans are surprised to find themselves suddenly remembering, as though awakening from a trance, how much they used to love R.E.M. How simultaneously gratifying and infuriating must this be for the band itself, after so long striving on albums that would have been slathered with praise if made by unknowns half their age but that were instead judged inadequate to the unrealistic task of living up to their past and our fond memories. It’s strange how unfairly the love affair between audience and artist can turn sour. In the uphill years, the same things that were once adored—their eccentric individualism, their stubborn lack of glamour, an aura of principle and honor, the eternal Michael Stipe-ness of Michael Stipe—suddenly seemed to count against them. What had once appeared natural and unexpected and effortless was routinely scorned as labored and mannered and calculated. As with any abandoned lover, whatever they did was wrong—failing to change, changing too much; trying too hard, never trying hard enough. And now, into the space they vacate—according to a natural law of pop music and time that is both cruel and wondrous—the love we once felt for them is free to return.—Chris Heath
2011 Year-end highlights:
The Chicago Sun-Times inclusion of “We All Go Back To Where We Belong”
One of Ology.com’s Musicians of the Year
Inclusion in the Huffingtonpost’s Favorite Non-Kids’ Record of 2011
#6 on Magnet’s Top 20 Albums of 2011
#16 on Rollingstone.com’s Best 50 Albums of 2011
Story of the year at onlineathens.com.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!