Every band should always try to outdo themselves whenever they go into the studio. You’re only as good as the last record that you put out, and you’re going to want to put a little something more into every one of your songs to make sure that you’re pushing your sound forward. They might not all be golden, but when everything lines up in the right way, it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle.
Then again, once you’re on that pedestal, there’s a good chance that you’re never going to see that kind of success again. The music business can be fickle and there’s no way to guarantee that you deliver the goods with the same results over and over again. It takes a rare beast to capture that same energy whenever you go into the studio, but each of these acts were more than up to the challenge.
What really makes these records special though is just how much they sound different from each other. For every act that likes to rehash the same style of song every single time they walk into the studio, each of these records seem to have their own unique character, almost like you’re seeing a completely different band every time you put the record on. Rock and roll might seem like a very standard definition for every one of these groups, but there are more musical personalities to explore on every single one of these songs.
From the minute that R.E.M. came onto the rock scene, they never seemed to fit in a neat box. Even though Radio Free Europe may have been the darling of MTV in its really early days, there was no real reasoning behind an indie band operating out of Georgia selling in the same era as Thriller Michael Jackson. These guys were always about the long term though, and R.E.M. practically have two different identities in the '80s and the '90s.
On their debut record Murmur, you can see this seedy band being much more influenced by the jangly sounds of power pop, with Peter Buck having a more punk rock approach to what you were hearing out of bands like the Byrds, all while Michael Stipe created different images in your mind on songs like Perfect Circle or Talk About Passion. It may have been a good foundation to stand on in the beginning, but you have to grow up sometime, and Automatic for the People was the other side of the coin.
Once alternative rock became the biggest thing in the world, R.E.M.'s second wind came with Automatic, dissecting what your place in the world is supposed to be and trying to hold on to the same ideals that you had when you were a teenager even when you're entering your 30's. These guys might not have been the most innovative musicians in the world, but they were always holding on to their ideals and trying to please those teenage kids that they were when they first picked up their instruments.