A couple of days ago I posted a tune from the era that is arguably R.E.M.’s apex for my Best tunes of 1991 list and today I present my favourite tune from the end of their career. “ÜBerlin” was the third single released off the American alternative rock band’s fifteenth and final album, “Collapse into now”. And yeah, it’s awesome.
R.E.M. had just come off one of their most successful albums in years, 2008’s “Accelerate”, and during the tour in support of it, all three members had independently decided that it was time to go out on a high note. With this in mind, they recorded their last album, knowing that these sessions would be the last time they would perform together. Then, they broke up officially, six months after its release. There are apparently hints throughout the record that this would be it but if the clues are there, I never heard them. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t want to hear them. I remember first listening to “Collapse into now” and falling for it, much like I did “Accelerate”, and thinking “They’re back”. I had lost interest in the band in the 2000s, feeling that they had stopped challenging themselves, though I am sure that’s not the case. Regardless, I didn’t hear a lot to be excited about on those years. So imagine my disappointment when I learned R.E.M. were done after being lured in by them all over again.
As I mentioned above, “ÜBerlin” was not just my favourite on the album but likely my favourite of their tunes for a decade or so. It’s because it feels so personal. Peter Buck’s acoustic strum and pluck is pushed forward in the mix, closely shadowed by Mike Mills’ bass, the tricky-tack drum beat and organs just add ambience. It’s a crowded coffee house, mugs are clinking and baristas are busy steaming milk but Stipe is there, in the corner with his stool, and his band in the shadows. It’s German noir, black and white, save for a red technicolor balloon. And this is hope. A hope that everything will be okay in the absence of R.E.M.
Five years later and I’m still not so sure but at least we have a recording like this to soothe us.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.