In 1996, R.E.M. re-signed with Warner Bros. for a reported US$80 million, at the time the most expensive recording contract in history. Its 1996 release, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, though critically acclaimed, fared worse commercially than expected. The following year, Bill Berry left the band, while Buck, Mills, and Stipe continued the group as a trio.
Through some changes in musical style, the band continued its career into the next decade with mixed critical and commercial success, despite having sold more than 85 million records worldwide and becoming one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time.In 2007, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. R.E.M. disbanded amicably in September 2011, announcing the split on its website.
In a 1988 interview, Peter Buck described typical R.E.M. songs as, “Minor key, mid-tempo, enigmatic, semi-folk-rock-balladish things. That’s what everyone thinks and to a certain degree, that’s true.”All songwriting is credited to the entire band, even though individual members are sometimes responsible for writing the majority of a particular song.
Each member is given an equal vote in the songwriting process; however, Buck has conceded that Stipe, as the band’s lyricist, can rarely be persuaded to follow an idea he does not favor.
Among the original line-up, there were divisions of labor in the songwriting process: Stipe would write lyrics and devise melodies, Buck would edge the band in new musical directions, and Mills and Berry would fine-tune the compositions due to their greater musical experience.
Michael Stipe sings in what R.E.M. biographer David Buckley described as “wailing, keening, arching vocal figures”.Stipe often harmonizes with Mills in songs; in the chorus for “Stand”, Mills and Stipe alternate singing lyrics, creating a dialogue.
Early articles about the band focused on Stipe’s singing style (described as “mumbling” by The Washington Post), which often rendered his lyrics indecipherable.
Creem writer John Morthland wrote in his review of Murmur, “I still have no idea what these songs are about, because neither me nor anyone else I know has ever been able to discern R.E.M.’s lyrics.
” Stipe commented in 1984, “It’s just the way I sing. If I tried to control it, it would be pretty false.” Producer Joe Boyd convinced Stipe to begin singing more clearly during the recording of Fables of the Reconstruction.
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