Four years into their split, the serious pining for R.E.M. begins. Taken entirely from MTV’s extensive coverage of them, this riveting documentary vividly portrays a closely bonded, strictly principled and deeply inspiring oddball rock band that could only run straight on all four wheels.
From their origins as misfit wailers playing Ramones-indebted folk punk in pizza parlours and dilapidated churches around Athens, Georgia, through the drunk and dislocated growing pains of Reckoning (1984) and Fables Of The Reconstruction (1985), their college radio rise to a shiny, happy, religion-misplacing peak is intricately sketched.
Watching frontman Michael Stipe develop from shy noise poet hiding behind a protective fringe into the most open and frank bald alien Zorro in rock – “Some records are from the heart; this record is from the crotch, it’s a dick record,” he says of 1995’s Monster – is fascinating.
The soundtrack, of course, is superlative, tracing the wild and winding indie-grunge-folk-pop road from Radio Free Europe to their bleak 1992 masterpiece Automatic For The People and the off-kilter latter period beyond the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1997.
A timely reminder that R.E.M. were a wonderfully weird rock marvel./o:p