After Sonic Youth, this is the greatest indie rock band from the 80s; easily one of the most democratic the world has ever seen up until the very moment Peter Buck forgot how to play any other chords except Am and Em and Bill Berry left (both occurred simultaneously, uncoincidentally). Because otherwise, they had a sturdy and steady drummer indebted to post-punk, a bassist who injected some of the smartest backing vocals throughout their career that often don’t merely harmonize but do their own melodies, a guitarist who made arpeggios seem magical and a vocalist who knew the definition of subtlety before he saw how much Bono was making.
More people would respect them if their indie stock didn’t plummet in the 90s when they (unquestionably) sold out and kept declining in the 00s where they made the grave mistake of continuing to be a band. If only they had done the Pixies or Replacements or Smiths thing of calling it a day early, right? (Even though all of those bands’ solo careers and/or side projects and/or reformations sucked just as much.) Figure it out.
Real talk: New Adventures in Hi-Fi often gets called their last great album and that’s like being the king of the sandbox; faint praise for a really mediocre album. Also, Out of Time sucks. It has always sucked.
16. Around the Sun (2004) – D
Best song: “Leaving New York”
Best moment: no idea, and no intention of finding out.
15. Reveal (2001) – C
Best song: “All the Way to Reno”
Best moment: the choruses of “All the Way to Reno.”
14. Up (1998) – C
Best song: “At My Most Beautiful”
Best moment: the piano riff of “At My Most Beautiful.”
13. Monster (1994) – C
Best song: “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”
Best moment: the choruses of “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth.”
12. Out of Time (1991) – C+
Best song: “Losing My Religion”
Best moment: the opening riff of “Losing My Religion” that almost makes that song and this album seem worth it.
11. Accelerate (2008) – B-
Best song: “Living Well is the Best Revenge”
Best moment: the opening guitar line of “Living Well is the Best Revenge.”
10. Collapse Into Now (2011) – B-
Best song: “Walk It Back”
Best moment: the opening guitar line of “Discoverer.”
9. New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) – B-
Best song: “New Test Leper”
Best moment: “Dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is” from “E-Bow the Letter.”
8. Green (1988) – B
Best song: “Get Up”
Best moment: the backing vocals of “Get Up,” made even catchier because they’re running parallel to a biting guitar and handclaps.
7. Document (1987) – B+
Best song: “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
Best moment: Mike Mills’ backing vocals in the choruses of “It’s End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” that go “It’s time I had some time alone.”
6. Automatic for the People (1992) – A-
Best song: “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”
Best moment: when Michael Stipe chuckles to himself through the chorus, perhaps at his own preceding absurdist lyrics or maybe the fact that no one could tell what he was saying during those choruses. Jamaica? Really?
5. Fables of the Reconstruction (1985) – A-
Best song: “Driver 8”
Best moment: the choruses of “Driver 8.”
4. Lifes Rich Pageant (1986) – A-
Best song: “Superman”
Best moment: pick one (because I can’t): the choruses of “These Days” or “Fall On Me.”
3. Reckoning (1984) – A-
Best song: “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”
Best moment: The opening riff and first verse of “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry).”
2. Chronic Town EP (1982) – A
Best song: “Wolves, Lower”
Best moment: The bridge of “Wolves, Lower” where you hear the plane going down and Michael Stipe letting out the briefest scream (or it might be a manipulated guitar for all I know), and it’s lifetimes of psychological torture and physical terror, all channeled in a single second.
1. Murmur (1983) – A+
Best song: “Sitting Still”
Best moment: the climaxed “You can get away from me! GET AWAY FROM ME-AH!” from “Sitting Still.”