#3 R.E.M. – Strange Currencies

You know with love comes strange currencies

And here is my appeal

Some of the Best 3 marks my momentous discovery of Sunday evening’s Top 40 broadcast on Southern FM (with another h/t to Jon Tuckwell). By judicious use of the ‘record live’ function, my compilations were now able to feature a sprinkling of contemporary chart-topping smashes alongside the usual retro gold. This being 1995, the downside was that any pirated track was bookended by the inane chattering of the Pepsi Network Chart Show host Neil ‘Dr’ Fox. But hey, such was nineties’ life. Why I didn’t instead listen to the fox-free Radio 1 chart show instead remains a mystery to me.

So it was that R.E.M. made their debut entry into the SOTB canon with Strange Currencies, and what a banger of a debut it was. The song was the fourth single from their ninth studio record Monster. It would be another 4 years until I borrowed the album on a scratched-up CD from my local library and found it to be, indeed, a monster. Or should I say, “a snarling piece of meta ‘rock’ … toying with gender-fuckery, the pitfalls of celebrity, and carnal lust, all while providing some of [R.E.M.s] most daring and affecting songwriting moments.” Even then, Strange Currencies remained the album’s choice cut for me (and for David Foster Wallace too apparently, who listened to its sad sweetness over and over again throughout the summer of 1995), fending off stiff competition from What’s the Frequency, Kenneth and Tongue.

I still remember the first time that Peter Buck’s jangling distorted opening guitar riff exploded across 102.4 FM to mainline directly into my earholes. The squall of the overdriven amp lay down a palpably thrilling air of menace, its swelling feedback sending shivers down my spine. It was enough to overshadow even Foxy’s strident announcements about the latest lucky competition winner. Sure, the 6/8 cadence bore a striking similarity to Everybody Hurts (which would later feature on SOTB 4) but there was more grit, soul and grunt here, and an intoxicating gnarliness to the dirty production. It was somehow immediate and transcendent all at once. Stipe’s closing shriek of “These words, they haunt me, hunt me down, catch in my throat, make me pray, to say love’s confines, oh!” is as desperately brilliant 25 years on it was way back then.

As I said, a banger.

Honourable Mentions

No More I Love You’s Annie Lennox

Back For Good Take That

Turn On, Tune In Cop Out; Freak Power