Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: R.E.M.: Perfect Circle

R.E.M. is my favorite band of all time. A favorite to the point of, when they broke up, I got a number of "are you okay" texts. I own nearly all their releases, I buy soundtracks and compilations simply because they submitted a single song to it, bought the import singles for b-sides, the whole nine yards.

This also means buying/reading a number of books. The gold standard, historically speaking, has been It Crawled From the South, which was less a biography and more a companion. R.E.M.: Fiction tried to be more of a biography, and was solid in its detail. There were others, of course, like Talk About the Passion and Reveal: The Story of R.E.M.,, neither of which were essential.

Remarks: The Story of R.E.M. was Tony Fletcher's original attempt and was also very solid, but, like all the other volumes, did not see new volumes in close to ten years, if not longer, and Fletcher finally chose to update the book following R.E.M.'s break-up. The high quality that existed with Remarks thankfully continues with Perfect Circle.

Perfect Circle is exhaustive. Besides the detailed discography/chronology in the back, it comes with the reveal that Fletcher had some inside information and cooperation (bordering on collaboration) with the band. Thus, we get some extra stories from the early years, some details about the more recent albums and the troubles that went along with them, and enough new information where even a superfan like myself learned new things about the band and the albums I loved (or, in some cases, just liked).

I can quibble about a few things here and there. While Fletcher pulls few punches, he does tend to be more deferential toward the band's point of view in more controversial situations than you'd expect from a more neutral biography. There is a weird situation in chapter seventeen where there are some obvious typographical and factual errors that slip through as well, which is unexpected for a book in its third edition/iteration. And while the book is extremely readable, it doesn't have a narrative flow as much as a steady march - hardly a bad thing for this sort of medium, but if you're a more casual fan, I can imagine it feeling somewhat exhausting.

With all that said, the criticisms I have are dwarfed by the fact that this is probably the best book about R.E.M. available, both in terms of scope and in terms of information and story. For a band that's not known for its alcoholic antics or womanizing, whose mystery and appeal comes from the music more than the personalities, you get a lot of great insight into one of the great American bands. If you've ever been curious beyond what you've heard on the radio, what you've read on different websites, grab this book.

For kicks, here's my favorite version of what might be my favorite R.E.M. song, "Crush With Eyeliner" from Monster:


  1. You should have an Amazon affiliate link - I've added this to my wishlist based on your review.


  2. Jeff

    Thanks for the kind review. Greatly appreciated. Let me know the typos or errors in Chapter 17. It's never too late to correct things. Cheers


  3. Tony, if there's a less public way to contact you, let me know, I'll send you the quick hits.