Remembering R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)

This week, we pay tribute to R.E.M. by selecting tracks where we felt they were at their most beautiful.

And so the announcement came late last month that R.E.M. have officially called it quits, after 31 largely successful years and an expansive back catalogue of 15 studio albums. I must say that the news felt a bit like a twitchy wake-up bomb to some of us longtime fans, filling us with as much sadness and gratitude as bittersweet feelings, especially for those among us who honestly weren’t paying much attention to their music for quite some time now. The last R.E.M. record I actually bought was Reveal (a fine and rather underrated pop album released in 2001), and I’d readily admit that most of the songs on their final three albums felt more extraneous than they should. Perhaps we all took for granted that R.E.M. would always stick around to truffle out a catchy tune or two.
 
Like many second-generation fans, I only started listening to R.E.M. when they hit their commercial prime during the early nineties — my gateway to a long brewing R.E.M. obsession was 1992’s Automatic For the People, which remains one of my favorite records of all time — but was curious (and obsessive) enough to continue working my way back through the music they made in their fabled formative years. There is this air of perpetual mystery attached to the first five I.R.S. records, a certain mercurial quality that has always held a special appeal to me. Those early R.E.M. songs may not have the same commercial sheen and modern rock accessibility as later efforts, but such is the atmospheric wonder and sheer originality of albums such as Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984) that they still sound unique even today.
 
For no obvious reason, Reckoning is probably the one R.E.M. record that I have listened to more often than the others through the years. It’s worth noting that there was some sort of an unspoken affinity between the seminal jangle-rock sound that R.E.M. pioneered and the alternative rock scene that The Smiths was headlining across the pond — Peter Buck has alluded in interviews that he and Johnny Marr were probably listening to the same records. I have always felt that Reckoning was the album where the sense of purpose R.E.M. shared with The Smiths was most pronounced — both Reckoning and The Smiths’ equally influential self-titled debut were released in 1984, a year of living dangerously if your musical ambition is to reinvent what a contemporary rock band ought to sound like and yet be comfortably out of step with the times.
 
By Reckoning, the R.E.M. members have somewhat loosened up and shed some of the taciturn demeanor they affected like a statement of intent on their debut masterpiece Murmur — the musicianship sounded more assertive, the song arrangements more fleshed out, and Michael Stipe mumbling not as much as before. The subterranean sadness of “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” is R.E.M. at their evocative best, Stipe recounting a rather desperate episode of homesickness while the ringing and yet understated instrumentation adds to the mood of pensiveness and disconnection. These ten songs make a pretty persuasive argument for Reckoning to be the band’s most consistent and distinctively nuanced album, a pivotal second album that served notice of their early promise — they were only starting to warm up. – Keith.

mp3: R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)

One response to “Remembering R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)

  1. I was considering writing on “So. Central Rain”/Reckoning too. It’s my favourite album from REM’s IRS years.

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