Music Lists Featured Articles

R.E.M. Albums Ranked, Worst to Best

Anthony Socarras

REM Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Ranking R.E.M.’s 15 Studio Albums

It all began in a town called Athens. No, not Athens, Greece: Athens, Georgia. A sunny college town home to the University of Georgia, not New York City or D.C., was the birthplace of one of the most iconic alternative rock outfits of all time: R.E.M.

The band formed in 1980 after frontman Michael Stipe met guitarist Peter Buck while Buck was working at the legendary Athens record store, Wuxtry Records.

Alongside local contemporaries such as the B-52s and Pylon, as well their more distant relatives in the Minneapolis scene such as the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, R.E.M. would lead the vanguard of a new, unique form of music that would come to be known as alternative rock. If you turned your radio dial all the way to the left, you’d get a break from the synth-laden, cheesy pop and hair metal that otherwise defined the 80s and would instead be greeted with something else entirely.

Stipe’s soaring, hypnotic vocals, alongside Buck’s jangling guitars, Mike Mills’ melodic basslines and call-and-response vocals, and Bill Berry’s sparse drumming defined the lives of millions of teens, college students, and twenty-somethings during the 80s, yet would come to achieve mainstream success and recognition by the close of that decade. Even now, over a decade since they called it quits in 2011, their relevance as a band has not faded and, if anything, has grown in stature.

Here are all fifteen R.E.M. studio albums, ranked from worst to best.

15) Around The Sun (2004)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #15 - Around The Sun

Why It’s R.E.M.’s “Worst” Album

While it is not an unlistenable album, Around the Sun lacks inspiration and focus.

Wanderlust” is a particularly lifeless track that stands out as one of the band’s worst songs. Stipe’s theatrical vocals lack any semblance of charisma, and the band’s instrumentation falls completely flat. It’s like a bad parody of an old show tune.

Leaving New York” is the album’s standout single, as it has shades of the band’s earlier, more appealing work. It’s on the slower side in terms of tempo, but it’s pleasant to listen to. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop Around the Sun from being a plain dull and lifeless record.

14) Up (1998)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #14 - Up

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 14th Best Album

Drummer Bill Berry’s absence is sorely felt on Up, a lackluster effort from Athens’ finest.

As with many other bands during the late 1990s, R.E.M. moved to a more electronic sound. This effort to evolve and innovate deserves some recognition, and it’s clear that tracks like “Hope” and “Lotus” are unlike anything else the band had previously released, the latter of which calls to mind 60s psychedelic rock more than anything.

Unfortunately, this album simply lacks character and charm. It’s hardly unlistenable, as there are good moments here and there, such as the lovely “Daysleeper.” Overall, it doesn’t stack up to the band’s usual standards.

13) Collapse Into Now (2011)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #13 - Collapse Into Now

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 13th Best Album

R.E.M.’s final studio release holds some lovely surprises for listeners willing to hear them.

Collapse Into Now might not be the band’s most notable effort, but for a final album, it does provide a sense of closure. Tracks like “Uberlin” and “All the Best” call to mind the R.E.M. of yesteryear without too much cheesiness or nostalgia.

Supporting features from iconic artists Patti Smith and Eddie Vedder certainly convey seriousness, as if the band really wants listeners to know that they’re pulling out all the stops for their last release. Smith’s performance on “Blue” warrants special attention.
Overall, Collapse Into Now is a respectable effort that rounds out R.E.M.’s career in a fitting way.

12) Accelerate (2008)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #12 - Accelerate

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 12th Best Album

The aptly-named Accelerate sees the band channel an energetic and straightforward sound.

Accelerate builds with momentum, track by track. It’s as if each song’s short length keeps your attention from straying too far. In terms of instrumentals, Accelerate has shades of the band’s more rock-oriented output, such as Monster.

Living Well Is the Best Revenge” is a biting, brutal takedown of a political pundit, replete with Stipe’s characteristic wit, while “Hollow Man” has shades of the band’s finest anthem-style tracks.

Accelerate may be a well-rounded and polished record, but it lacks the sense of innovation present in some of the band’s earlier works. This focus on familiarity over the unknown does, however, guarantee a more predictable and smooth listening experience.

11) Reveal (2001)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #11 - Reveal

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 11th Best Album

Reveal offers an upbeat, positive take on the band’s traditional sound, leaning more heavily towards electronic and atmospheric instrumentation.

R.E.M. rang in the new millennium with Reveal. Leveraging an impressive array of synthesizers and slick production techniques, the band offers listeners multiple standout tracks, like the touching “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)” and the forceful “Imitation of Life.”

In terms of lyrics, one can expect a blend of the band’s more introspective and apolitical themes present on records like Automatic for the People, as well as a touch of the fiery social commentary found on Document and Lifes Rich Pageant.

Reveal might lack the power and consistency of the band’s earlier discography, but it’s an experimental and captivating album worth your time.

10) Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #10 - Lifes Rich Pageant

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 10th Best Album

Lifes Rich Pageant came at a special time for R.E.M. By this point in their career, they had begun to garner an audience outside the college rock circuit. Listeners around the United States and abroad began to keep track of their work. They weren’t quite there yet in terms of mainstream success, but they were well on their way.

With that context in mind, Lifes Rich Pageant holds special significance. This release marks the band’s initial foray into overt political and social commentary. While these tendencies are apparent in their earlier work, this album’s tracks, such as “Cuyahoga” and “Fall on Me,” provide a clear, eco-conscious message.

The band’s traditional instrumentation remains, yet excels anew alongside strings and brass accompaniments. Murmur may channel positivity while Fables of the Reconstruction evokes darker themes, but Lifes Rich Pageant falls solidly in the middle, with both moody and upbeat tones.

Fans keen on listening to the band in a unique, transitory period in between the underground and the mainstream can’t miss Lifes Rich Pageant.

9) Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #9 - Fables of the Reconstruction

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 9th Best Album

Fables of the Reconstruction shines a dark, brooding exploration of the band’s home region of the Deep South.

The album forgoes the raucous openers characteristic of the band’s older work. Instead, “Feeling Gravitys Pull” lures the audience with an eclectic blend of Stipe’s emotive vocals and Buck’s prickly guitars. “Maps and Legends” features Stipe and Mills’ characteristic song-and-response duo in perfect form, while “Life and How to Live It” returns to the upbeat energy of their previous releases.

However, out of all the songs on Fables of the Reconstruction, none stands close to “Driver 8.” “Driver 8” takes the band’s trademark upbeat instrumentals and pairs them with haunting, poetic lyrics about railroads crisscrossing lush Southern scenery. It’s among the best tracks the band has to offer.

Fables of the Reconstruction may falter a bit towards the album’s close, but overall, this is a solid effort that all R.E.M. fans ought to consider.

8) Green (1988)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #8 - Green

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 8th Best Album

At the time of release, many old-school R.E.M. fans cursed the band for releasing Green. While Lifes Rich Pageant may have seen the band make overtures to the mainstream, Green, according to this more purist perspective, was a shameless attempt to placate record executives with a more accessible sound.

There’s a grain of truth to this argument, as Green is the band’s first album with a major record label. But the band doesn’t compromise their roots just to achieve fame, as Green has something for both old fans and new listeners alike to join.

Stand,” for instance, takes Buck’s signature guitarwork and pairs it with a catchy and upbeat tune, complete with radio-friendly lyrics for all to sing along to. Even the more serious tracks on the album, such as “Orange Crush” and “Pop Song 89,” feature a similar sheen of professionalism, even as they carefully discuss charged topics such as the use of chemical weapons during the Vietnam War and massive damage to the environment.

Green doesn’t quite achieve the same level of balance between pop accessibility and musical depth as other albums in the band’s discography. However, it’s still a fascinating, fun, and engaging album full of tracks to enjoy.

  • Label Warner Bros
  • 180 Gram Vinyl Record - LP - New
  • Track Listing
  • LP1
  • 1. Pop Song 89

7) Monster (1994)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #7 - Monster

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 7th Best Album

By the time of Monster‘s release, the band was solidly in the 1990s and not afraid to completely depart from what fans expected of them. Monster, much like Up, sees the band try to capture the popular musical zeitgeist, which, as of 1994, was firmly focused on aggressive guitars and a grungy sound.

Staying afloat in a new music scene dominated by bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains was no small task for R.E.M. However, Monster features an aggressive and hard-hitting sound that easily shows the band’s capacity to keep up with their peers.

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” sees Buck trade in his light, jangly arpeggios for hard-hitting, grungy chords, complete with fuzzed-out solo overlays. If it wasn’t for Stipe’s recognizable voice, this track would be hard to identify as an R.E.M. song.

However, while many fans bemoaned this shift away from more complicated instrumentals and sophisticated lyrics, Monster is still a great record. The band’s willingness to balance their unique identity amid a tumultuous and ever-changing musical landscape deserves respect, even if Monster lacks the spellbinding charm characteristic of their earlier work.

6) Out of Time (1991)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #6 - Out of Time

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 6th Best Album

If Green took R.E.M. further into the mainstream, Out of Time sees the band firmly and unashamedly appeal to a popular audience — and with great results.

You could be forgiven for forgetting that there were other tracks on this album besides “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People.” “Losing My Religion” stands out as one of, if not the most popular songs by the band, and, as with “The One I Love,” is all too often misunderstood. “Losing My Religion” revolves around Buck’s mandolin work, evoking themes of unrequited love and struggles with self-identity.

Shiny Happy People,” on the other hand, is a song that both the band and many fans would like to forget. Featuring the B-52’s Kate Pierson on backing vocals, “Shiny Happy People” almost sounds like it was written with the sole purpose of mainstream success. The song’s saccharine and cookie–cutter qualities may seem trite to more cynical listeners, but it makes for a fun listen if one suspends their disbelief.

Near Wild Heaven” and “Radio Song,” both released as singles, are two superb tracks that many forget to consider when giving Out of Time a try.

With three Grammys and over 18 million sales to its name, Out of Time certainly earns its place as one of R.E.M.’s most commercially successful outputs. Although some purists may deride the album’s more public-friendly sound, it also just sounds great.

5) Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #5 - Adventures in Hi-Fi

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 5th Best Album

While many bands opt to focus solely on their live performance game while on tour, R.E.M. chose a different path during their 1995 world tour. As they traveled around the globe to entertain audiences far and wide, the band recorded part of their 1996 effort, Adventures in Hi-Fi.

Adventures in Hi-Fi is hard to describe. In one moment, listeners enjoy a beautiful duet between Stipe and rock legend Patti Smith on the track “E-Bow the Letter,” while “Undertow” provides a sonic assault complete with energy and vigor. While Monster might’ve seen the band experiment, only to end up with songs that all sound more or less the same, Adventures in Hi-Fi excels at providing a wide palette of songs for fans of all stripes to choose from.

There’s something to be said about the band’s instrumentation on this record, as well. Listeners can distinctly tell that this an R.E.M. album, based on Buck’s guitarwork and Stipe’s vocals, not to mention Berry’s and Mills’ output. But there are moments where the band steps outside their wheelhouse, yet it doesn’t seem cheesy or forced like Up or Around the Sun.

Even traditional fans yearning for the days of jangly guitars and soaring vocals have something to enjoy from Adventures in Hi-Fi.

4) Document (1987)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #4 - Document

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 4th Best Album

If Out of Time features R.E.M. at the peak of their popular success, then Document embodies their sound right as they began to achieve mainstream recognition.

Bands with roots in the independent and college-driven scenes of the 1980s held a diversity of perspectives about breaking into the mainstream. Some, like the Replacements, took pride in walking right up to the line, only to self-sabotage just as they had a chance of mainstream success. R.E.M. takes a different path with Document.

Document channels the band’s distinctive sound — Buck’s jangling guitars, Stipe’s ethereal, baritone vocals, Mills’ thudding bass, and Berry’s forceful drumming — and repackages it for a mainstream audience without any decline in quality or integrity.

Finest Worksong” and “Exhuming McCarthy” may stand out as two politically-charged yet captivating tracks. However, it’s the bitter “The One I Love” and iconic “It’s The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” that showcase the band’s unique ability to balance accessibility and quality, appealing to both hardcore music fans and regular listeners alike.

Document is one of the band’s finest achievements and a must-listen album.

Document (Ogv) [Vinyl]
  • Ships in Certified Frustration-Free Packaging

3) Reckoning (1984)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #3 - Reckoning

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 3rd Best Album

Reckoning came at a unique point in R.E.M.’s career. They had earned a degree of success and fame from their previous release, Murmur, yet continued to yearn for greater heights and glories. Reckoning takes their signature sound to the next level, adding a level of sophistication and sheen characteristic of a young band finding their footing and growing.

Harborcoat” features Peter Buck’s trademark jangly guitars, a sound one will never forget after hearing it. Buck’s guitarwork shines throughout the album, with dazzling arpeggios and mind-blowing rhythm work. However, tracks like “7 Chinese Bros” feature the band’s cooperative nature, opening with Bill Berry’s steady drumming and Buck’s guitar in unison, only to give way to Stipe’s masterful singing and Mill’s supportive bass. Everything goes hand in hand.

Reckoning is a great effort characterized by unity of purpose and quality of sound. In any other band’s discography, it’d easily be the best they have to offer.

2. Automatic for the People (1992)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #2 - Automatic for the People

Why It’s R.E.M.’s 2nd Best Album

Out of R.E.M.’s entire discography, few records captivate audiences like Automatic for the People. This album simply excels, showcasing a tremendous mix of melancholic and subdued instrumentals with poignant yet deeply relatable lyrics about tragedy and hope. The youthful exuberance of the band’s earlier releases gives way to a familiar yet more mature sound, well-suited for the 1990s.

Drive” starts the record with haunting, resonant instrumentals shining like few other album openers. “Everybody Hurts,” the flagship single from this release, handles the deeply human subjects of loss with a sensitive and delicate touch, encouraging listeners to recognize and accept the reality of suffering to grow and reconnect with society. Other standout tracks include “Nightswimming” and “Man on the Moon,” odes to the carefree adventures of youth and the late Andy Kaufman, respectively.

It’s hard to find a song on Automatic for the People that feels out of place or less than desirable. Each track moves seamlessly into the next, providing a unified, coherent listening experience.

Automatic for the People possesses a unique charm. The band blends sturdy and touching instrumentals with mature, sophisticated lyricism to an incredible degree, earning its place among the band’s finest achievements.

Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) [LP]
  • 25th anniversary vinyl
  • remastered from the og analog master
  • 180g vinyl
  • printed inner sleeve
  • Craft Recordings 1992 / 2017

1) Murmur (1983)

R.E.M. Albums Ranked: #1 - Murmur

Why It’s R.E.M.’s Greatest Album of All-Time

R.E.M.’s first studio album began production in late 1982. The band traveled across the United States in an effort to find a producer and recording studio that fit their unique, eclectic sound. After much trial and error, they finished recording on February 23rd, 1983.

Few people would have predicted the extent to which Murmur succeeded as a record, both commercially and critically. It’s as close to perfect as an album can get, and this perfection led to it spreading like wildfire among college radio stations and alternative music gurus across the U.S. and the world at large.

Murmur is the band’s eclectic, esoteric sound at its utmost peak. Stipe’s crooning, hypnotic vocals lack little in the way of clear intelligibility, but they are utterly captivating when combined with Buck’s intricate, jangling guitar work.

There isn’t a single bad or mediocre song on Murmur. “Radio Free Europe” kicks the album off with a fast-paced, frenetic ecstasy of sound, while “Pilgrimage” showcases Stipe and Mill’s utterly incredible call-and-response vocal style. “Perfect Circle,” a slower-paced track, is beautiful in its simplicity.

There’s something for everyone on Murmur, and it’s easily one of the best albums of the 1980s. That’s why Murmur is R.E.M.’s best album.

Anthony Socarras

Anthony Socarras

Anthony Socarras is a Virginia-based contributor for Listening to his brother’s records growing up led to a lifelong love of classic rock and metal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and watching documentaries.

One reply on “R.E.M. Albums Ranked, Worst to Best”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *