I’ve never been an R.E.M. fan, although I did date one, so I know that they do exist, still. What strikes me is that, for a supposedly well-respected rock group with a long-running career, how many of their biggest hits sound like novelty songs. This song, Shiny Happy People, the one about the end of the world; they all sound like the work of someone like Thomas Dolby or The Proclaimers, one-hit-wonder types who couldn’t have serious careers because their best known hits were too silly. Yet R.E.M. managed to be taken seriously for a long time while releasing all these ridiculous silly songs. To be fair, they were also able to produce some seriously good songs that earned them their reputation as an important band. And, of course, in his heyday Michael Stipe was considered to be right up there with Bono, Sting, and Bob Geldof for being pretentious, insufferable and self-righteous. To fans, apparently, it’s a minor Greek tragedy that the clout R.E.M. earned for their edgy early work got burned away by the commercial success of joke songs like this one. It isn’t a shamefully terrible song; it’s a perfectly good song, for dancing to at an 80’s themed nightclub. Being a popular choice on 80’s Nite is fine for Thomas Dolby and the like, but that’s not what Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘best rock’n’roll band in America’ should aspire to.

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