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R.E.M.

After over three decades, R.E.M. announced it was breaking up a couple of weeks ago. So during this episode Jim and Greg look back at its career highlights and lowlights, and discuss its legacy in the years to come. R.E.M., along with U2, is unique among bands from the indie rock '80s. It not only achieved career longevity, but, for better or worse, skyrocketed to arena status. Jim and Greg also have a unique relationship with the Athens, GA musicians. Both remember covering the band as mere fanzine writers, maturing as critics the same time R.E.M. was as a band.

Greg talks in-depth about R.E.M.'s I.R.S. years with landmark albums like Murmur and Fables of the Reconstruction. His favorite track from this 1st era is "Pretty Persuasion" from Reckoning in 1983. Jim goes on to discuss its transition to a major label. Their Warner releases Green, Out of Time and Automatic for the People didn't let their loyal fans down. But, things fell off after that. Greg makes an argument for New Adventures in Hi-Fi from 1996, and both critics agree that drummer Bill Berry's departure marked a great loss in terms of sound and connection. But when it comes to R.E.M.'s legacy, they're sure new generations of listeners will focus on the good years, rather than the bad. And its model of building grassroots fans that transitioned with them from label to label, club to arena is one new indie bands would be wise to follow.

Go to episode 306
news

Music News

The first story in the news this week involves that age-old practice of“pay-for-play,”or payola, in the music industry. In recent years, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has been investigating major record labels like Sony and Warner who engaged in this practice. But now, the FCC has joined the battle against this unethical behavior by launching an investigation of the four major radio corporations: Clear Channel Communications, CBS Radio, Citadel Broadcasting and Entercom Communications. The FCC's enforcement unit is looking into accusations that broadcasters illegally accepted cash or other compensation in exchange for airplay of specific songs without telling listeners. As per usual, the federal government is late to the game — but this investigation is admittance of a problem. And as we all know, that's the first step.

Also making news recently are some major acts from the early 1990s. It seems that people are already nostalgic for the music of the alternative era, and many of the surviving bands are cashing in on it. Alice in Chains announced tour dates for this summer, despite the fact that their original lead singer, Layne Staley, died of a drug overdose in 2002. Like the members of Queen and The Doors, the surviving Alice in Chains bandmates don't seem fazed by this loss, and will continue with the addition of Guns 'N Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Comes With the Fall vocalist William DuVall. Former Jane's Addiction members Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins will also tour this summer under the name Panic Channel, though their lead singer has not passed on. Rather, he's now the impresario of what may prove this summer's big moneymaker: Lollapalooza.

In the typical fashion, Neil Young is stirring up some controversy. The prolific rocker finished recording music for an upcoming album mere days ago and will have it in stores within a couple of weeks. Young is just coming off his last release, Prairie Wind (featured in Jonathan Demme's recent concert film), but on Living With War, he will shift gears completely. According to Greg, this release is a completely political, guerilla-style protest album. Young wrote and recorded songs like "Let's Impeach the President," in just one day in response to the current administration and its failed war in Iraq. Jim points out that Young works well in this situation. Less than two weeks after the Kent State shootings in 1970, Young was inspired to write "Ohio," and it was on the radio within a week. Almost 40 years later, the classic rock icon shows no sign of slowing down — neither his writing, nor his politics.

Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins are also in the headlines again. Nirvana widow Courtney Love sold 25% of her share of the band's publishing rights to Larry Mestel, a former executive at Virgin Music. She reportedly received over 50 million dollars for this settlement. That should help alleviate Love's financial woes, though not necessarily the woes of Nirvana fans who worry that Cobain's legacy will be boiled down to Teen Spirit ads. Smashing Pumpkins fans are also a bit curious about the fate of that band. Lead singer (and Love ex) Billy Corgan has stated that the Chicago group will reunite, but no one is quite sure in what incarnation. That really just leaves Pearl Jam, who you'll hear about later in the show.

Go to episode 22

Music News

These days it's not unusual for pop stars to simultaneously be topping the charts and filling the court dockets (T.I., Lil Wayne). But it is unusual for a commercial, family-friendly star to have such infamy. Singer/songwriter Bruno Mars has the #1 song in the country, "Grenade," and he's been all over mainstream TV this year with appearances on The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, Ellen and Glee. Now he's pleading guilty to cocaine possession charges, so Jim and Greg are interested to see if this affects his popularity. Our guess? It won't.

After Wilco's first label, Reprise, refused to put out their critically acclaimed 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, many people thought they should abandon the major label system. Now, almost a decade later, they're doing it. Wilco is leaving the Warner subsidiaries to form dBpm Records. It will be run by the band's manager, with distribution provided by ANTI-.

Oscar-winning composer John Barry died last week at age 77. The Guardian claims he's as "pop as the Beatles," and Jim and Greg agree. It's hard to imagine the '60s without Barry's brassy, melodic orchestrations. He was not only the man behind the iconic Bond music, but his compositions were critical to many other films. So to honor Barry, Jim and Greg play the theme to Midnight Cowboy.

Go to episode 271

Music News

The Payola investigation conducted by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is making some headway. Universal Music Group, the world's biggest music company, has agreed to pay $12 million to settle accusations that its executives paid radio programmers to play certain songs. This is the largest settlement of its kind. Warner Music Group and Sony BMG made similar deals last year, and Mr. Spitzer is still in the process of investigating EMI, as well as radio companies like Clear Channel and CBS Radio. And, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, the FCC is conducting a similar inquiry. As always, Sound Opinions H.Q. will keep you posted.

Another story in the news this week suggests that record company lawyers won't be taking a break any time soon. All four of the major record labels have just launched a lawsuit against XM Satellite Radio. Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI all claim that a new XM device called the "Inno" violates music copyright law by allowing people to not only listen to satellite radio, but record it. Therefore, according to the labels, XM has become a digital retailer, like iTunes, and should be required to pay similar fees. It's yet another example of the recording industry scorning new technology rather than embracing it.

Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose is also making news, though Jim and Greg are wondering why. The buzz is that his long-awaited album Chinese Democracy is forthcoming — but our hosts are skeptical. Rose has been saying that he's on the brink of finishing for years (15 to be exact), and in the process he's become one of the long-running jokes in the music industry. But fans can take solace in the fact that the singer recently performed some Chinese Democracy tracks in New York. A good sign indeed.

Go to episode 25