After 1991's watershed album Out of Time, the pressure was certainly on to follow it up with something special. Whilst many bands (not naming any names) may have run and hid from such a challenge, R.E.M were up for it and recorded and released the rather amazing Automatic For The People the following year. Kicking things off with the brilliant, but decidedly un-single like Drive (is it just me, or is it reminiscent of a cross between Dr Hook's Silvia's Mother and Jon English's Hollywood Seven?), it wasn't until the release of the third single, and what was to become an anthem for the maudlin broken hearted world wide, Everybody Hurts, that things went nuts, and the album saw greater success than its predecessor. This success was in no small part due to the rather stunning promo video for Everybody Hurts, but more on that later...
So when things just keep getting bigger and scarier, what do you do? You spend two years coming up with Monster, by chucking out the minor chord ballads and going back to your rock roots. Monster's first single, the glorious rock-out What's the Frequency, Kenneth?, was as good a portent as any of the tracks that eventuated on the album that this was an entirely different kettle of fish than Automatic or Out of Time, and whilst it didnít make the (Peter) bucks that the two before it did, it was still a magnificent, and much underrated, album.
Parallel is a compilation of the promo clips made for the many singles from the two aforementioned albums, with every song punctuated by a snippet of one of the short films used as a backdrop on R.E.M.'s 1995 world tour.
Drive: A fabulously atmospheric song, accompanied by a curious black and white video featuring Michael Stipe crowd surfing in slow motion, lots of strobe lights, water and occasional shots of the rest of the band. Directed by R.E.M. favourite Peter Care. Mr Stipe has hair!
Man on the Moon: The track that went on to be the theme for the later movie of the same name based on the life of comedian Andy Kaufman, the clip is another typical Peter Care affair making much use of projections, black and white, and rather obvious visuals - the lyrics mention an apple, you see an apple, they mention an asp, you see an asp, etc. Michael Stipe wanders a lonely highway, the rest of the band pop up in a truck stop. Mr Stipe has a cowboy hat, and a fabulous Elvis moment (Presley this time, not Costello).
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight: For some reason one of the most befuddling songs to many - if you're still wondering the line is definitely "Call me when you try to wake her up", as the subtitles here prove it! In colour for a change, there are more projections, flashing lights and water. Mr Stipe wears a baseball cap.
Everybody Hurts: The award-winning video featuring a bunch of people stuck in traffic who just arenít gonna take it anymore. Commencing with lyrical subtitles, and veering off into putting various drivers' thoughts into words, black and white and directed by Ridley Scott's son Jake, who later went on to make Plunkett and Macleane. Mr Stipe wears another hat.
Night Swimming: Another gritty, muted colour Jemma Cohen clip, preceded by a short behind-the-scenes type segment that even features full frontal nudity - gasp! The clip itself isnít particularly G-rated either, with naked people swimming in slow motion, Dalmatians, traffic lights, shots of the moon and various Athens (Georgia) landmarks. It also contains a rather long glub-glub-glub interlude towards the end of the song that must have really pissed the likes of MTV off.
Find the River: Yet another black and white, grain-o-rama, we get to follow what looks like a sea captain (ARRR!) and his dog pottering around a beaten up shack and forest, intercut with studio performance shots of the band, all doing the rockstar thang with shades. Mr Stipe wears a cap.
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?: Peter Care returns, but this time in living colour! A full-on rock out performance clip of a full-on rock out song (including that fab DUCKA DUCKA DUCKA DUCKA riff), all the band wear shades again and Peter Buck is clad in what looks like an absolutely hideous Elvis cast-off. When we eventually get to see above Mr Stipe's shoulders he's a slaphead.
Bang and Blame: Sigh, more grainy black and white. Another clip featuring performance shots of the band, mostly presented in a three-frame at once effect. Mr Stipe's hair is growing back.
Star 69: Anyone who has directed stuff for people from Paula Abdul to the Jim Rose Circus must be interesting, so congrats to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who were responsible for this clip. And after saying that all we get is a live performance, in black and white. Oh well, I guess the budgets were shrinking by this time. Mr Stipe has shaved his head again.
Strange Currencies: Probably the closest thing to a Monster ballad, yet another black and white clip, featuring the band playing in the rain, cars, corrugated iron and lots of slow motion. Mr Stipe is alternatively a slaphead and beanie wearer - in the latter guise looking scarily like a certain Liam Gallagher.
Crush With Eyeliner: Another typically unusual slice of Spike Jonze's mind (for others check out Bjork's whimsical It's Oh So Quiet, Daft Punk's Da Funk or indeed the wonderful movie Being John Malkovich) for this great feedback-fest. A bunch of ringers pretend to be R.E.M., with the band but making split-second cameos (maybe they just couldnít be shagged showing up for yet another video shoot?) Mr Stipes's ringer wears a Stetson.
Star Me Kitten: Well, actually it's Fuck Me Kitten, but I guess that looks a bit scary printed on a CD or DVD case. Preceded by the best (f)artsy video montage included here, a four-and-a-half-minute sort of R.E.M. do Sesame Street ABC of the band (and ironically the band did appear on the children's show later), where we discover such things as 'H" is for "hi-hat', 'L' is for "Litt' (as in their producer Scott), and 'T' is for 'tambourine'. It's just a (you guessed it) black and white vid of a rehearsal for the song (mercifully not the version with William Burroughs mumbling away on it), serving as a backdrop for the credits for all the clips, and culled from the Declan Quinn documentary on the band that hasnít seen a DVD release as yet, Roughcut. Hang around until the end for a split second rundown on the aforementioned ABC, and to see an ant become king of the castle!
After viewing both this disc and This Film Is On recently, one thing is abundantly clear - R.E.M. love their grainy black and white clips. Still, on their transition to DVD these, and indeed those few that venture into coloured territory, all scrub up quite magically, and are pretty much as good as any video clips I've seen on the format. It's difficult to go into all the stuff like shadow detail, colour balance, contrast etc as they vary so greatly between clips - and the domain of the video director is one in which traditional film rules often simply donít apply.
Once again the sound comes to us in quite lovely Linear PCM stereo, all of which sound as good as, if not better, than their CD counterparts - and I donít think you can really ask for more than that.
The only things you could call extras are the thoughtful inclusion of lyrical subtitles, the nicely animated and soundtracked menus, and I guess the (f)artsy clips preceding each song, some of which are amusing or rather brilliant, some of which are just blurry 'what the heck's going on?' type affairs.
With a running time of over an hour this presents substantially better value than This Film Is On, and serves as a great, if incomplete, alternative to their currently non-existent 'greatest hits' CD from R.E.M.'s time signed to Warner. Whilst the predominance of black and white graininess can get a bit irritating after a while, the band is still easily one that goes to more effort than most to present visually stimulating clips for their singles, even if admittedly they most likely have bigger budgets than many of their contemporaries. Parallel is a must-get for any diehard fan of the band.