The 1980s were a strange time for conventional (as in 1960s/1970s) rock. The new wave sound worked against the classic guitar/bass/drums format, giving keyboards, drums machines and the like an unprecendented role. However, conventional bands did not go away, and two came to represent the decade.
These were U2 and R.E.M., both of whom achieved enormous if inconsistent critical and popular success, and both are still around today. No one would deny that both band’s finest moments currently lie long behind them (although rock always has a capacity to surprise) but those moments were very fine indeed.
Nonetheless, I never really warmed to either band. I collected the records, admired much of them, loved little, and was indifferent to the rest. I was reminded of this while replaying R.E.M.’s Lifes Rich Pageant today, and finding, much to my pleasure, that it is actually an even finer record than I first felt upon hearing it. I always considered it their best album, but listening again today seemed to reveal a deeper songcraft, lyrical incisiveness and instrumental facility than I recall from my first involvement with the music.
Perhaps I should revisit their other albums now than I am more receptive. Music has a funny habit of variably fitting into particular times, places and periods, and I am convinced that much of this receptivity (or lack of the same) is psychological in origin, so much so that I regard my musical preferences to be a signpost of my deeper pysche.
Which is how it should be for music, as for any art form. Art should always dig beneath the surface and burrow into hidden truths and meanings, even if they are not necessarily pleasant or consoling. For this reason, I am constantly searching out new music and re-evaluating old. I value the power of the medium to strip away the calcified layers that can bury one’s own natural cognition.