“It might be as close as we came to being a four-piece rock band and I say that with no regret”: Michael Stipe on his favourite R.E.M. album

R.E.M. in 1994
(Image credit: Chris Carroll/Corbis via Getty Images))

When it comes to choosing your favourite R.E.M. record, there are many versions of the Athens, Georgia alt-rock heroes to choose from. You could go for the jangly college-rock of their early days or the jaunty expansive anthems of the late 80s, the moody country-fied twangs of Automatic For The People or the experimental grooves of the late 90s? So many R.E.M.s to pick from. In an interview with this writer in 2021, frontman Michael Stipe said that his favourite from the group who released 17 studio albums before calling it a day in 2011 was one that marked the end of an era because it was the last to feature drummer and co-founder Bill Berry.

“I never thought of R.E.M. as a “rock band” – I’m going to put that in parentheses,” said Stipe. “I never thought of myself as a rock person. I always felt like I was a punk rocker who was immersing myself into some post-new wave something and through just presenting ourselves as who we were helping to radically spearhead and alter what pop music was going to become from where, certainly from where it was.”

For Stipe, the band’s 1996 album New Adventures In Hi-Fi was the one that really captured what they were all about. “For [1994 record] Monster, we were having to go on tour and we needed material that wasn’t from Automatic For The People and Out Of Time – we needed big, loud songs and so we wrote a quote-unquote “rock record”,” Stipe explained. “But it was very distanced and taking a lot from glam-rock, an ironic distanced version of rock music. New Adventures… might be as close as we came to being a four-piece rock band and I say that with no regret. It was was Bill [Berry, drummer] and Mike [Mills, bassist] and Peter [Buck, guitarist] performing at their very best as a three-piece and me doing what I do on top of that, creating a fearful force.”

New Adventures In Hi-Fi was written and partially recorded on the road as the group embarked on a huge tour to support Monster, the result being a band who are well and truly locked in with each other, the confidence of playing the world’s biggest venues also prompting them to experiment and break new ground. “Looking back, it does feel like it's pulling from all through our career,” Stipe said. “I'm so proud of that record.”

He said there was one other R.E.M. album that for him shared the top spot. “I have two favourite records that we ever put out, one that has joined New Adventures... as my favourite,” he said. “It’s the record Reveal. It’s just my participation. My contribution to those albums is probably my favourite in those two records.”

At the time we spoke, Stipe was working on his debut solo album but it has yet to emerge. Here’s hoping it’s still in the works – Michael Stipe’s vocal is too good to be shut away from the wider world.


Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.