R.E.M. kicked off the new album with a title track single featuring Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. It's not the first time Vedder has joined the three remaining members of R.E.M. Vedder has joined them on stage during live performances several times over the years.
It Happened Today strikes the right chords for 2011.
The opening of the song is defeatist, with Michael Stipe (vocals) singing "this is not a parable, this is a terrible" against the backdrop of an acoustic guitar and restrained percussion. Vedder also lends a vocal contribution toward the conclusion.
The song, however, is not defeatist as sone early reviews suggested after latching on to the first three lines. R.E.M. turns the tables on the defeat by declaring such happenings as those moments when we can stand up and make the choice to make things better.
With the worst already behind us, it makes any future accomplishments all the more remarkable and memorable. Stipe is right. We earn something after tragedies, setbacks, and terrible things. R.E.M. would know. The band and its members are no strangers to personal trials.
Triumph after tragedy sets the tone for right now.
The accidental meeting of Stipe and Peter Buck (guitar) while working in a record store, and their subsequent pairing with Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drums) led to a redefinition of post-punk into alternative rock. Together, they toured in an old blue blue van, living on nothing more than a food allowance of $2 per day until finally producing the independent Radio Free Europe.
They did everything no one expected, turning down RCA in favor of I.R.S. in 1982. But any of those tests were nothing compared to losing Berry, who was forced to retire after the stress of touring began to wear on him, which became apparent after he suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed on stage.
While Berry has made special appearances and recordings with R.E.M. on occasion, he remains steadfast to his decision to retire. Although the band was admittedly lost without him for nearly a decade, they eventually recovered and toured (for the first time since Monster) in 2005. In 2007, they were nominated for inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the induction by Vedder.
For the upcoming album on March 8, R.E.M. has tapped many talents. Along with Vedder, guests include Joel Gibb, Lenny Kaye, Peaches, and Patti Smith. The band released a teaser compilation on YouTube in anticipation of their first album since Accelerate.
The album is produced by Jacknife Lee, who also produced Accelerate, under the Warner Bros. label. R.E.M. originally invited Lee to work with them after being urged by The Edge (U2). His influences have been felt, especially in preventing Stipe from over thinking the work.
It Happened Today by R.E.M. Hits With A 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
The single fits easily among their best work since Monster. Stipe's underscoring vocals, Buck's arpeggiated guitar, and multi-talented composer Mills' bass will likely reintroduce another generation to a genre that remains untapped.
In March, the album to look for is the Deluxe version, which also includes three live studio sessions of Discoverer, Oh My Heart, and Alligator Aviator Autopilot along with twelve songs that range from laments to epics. Collapse Into Now will be released on iTunes, and you can purchase It Happened Today as an independent track off the album. You can also visit their website and download Discoverer for free.