Thank god for independent record stores.  Back in the

70s and early 80s  record stores were like the literary salons of Paris

in the 20s and 30s. A place for like-minded souls to gather,  passionately

discussing and debating pop music and all it’s permutations.

Fanatical record collector Peter Buck worked in such a

store,  Wuxtry Records in Athens, Georgia. That’s where Buck met

Michael Stipe. The two bonded over a mutual love of essential punk

bands like  Television, Wire and the Patti Smith Group.

With Buck on guitar and Stipe handling vocals, they decided

to form a band.  R.E.M. firmly coalesced  when the pair hooked up with

drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills.

Back in the early 80s, if you found someone else who liked

R.E.M., that was like knowing a secret handshake.   Def Leppard ,

Loverboy and  Foreigner ruled the airwaves.  Bands like R.E.M.

operated under the radar. They were special, they were different and

they were yours alone.

By 1982 the band recorded their Chronic Town EP. That

created enough of a buzz to get R.E.M. signed to Indie label,  I.R.S.

Records.  The following year they released their first  long-player,

Murmur. Despite minimal radio airplay, Rolling Stone named it their

album of the year, beating out mega-sellers like the Police and

Michael Jackson.

Relentless touring and a string of critically acclaimed  records

positioned  R.E.M.  (along with U2), as the Forefathers  of the

Alternative Rock movement.

Even after the band signed with major label Warner Brothers,

R.E.M. continued to capture the zeitgeist  of the times.  Anyone who

came of age during the Postpunk/I Want My MTV era has a favorite

R.E.M. song.  Be it the jangly  “Radio Free Europe,” the Dylanesque

apocalypse of “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It  (And I Feel

Fine)” or the achingly vulnerable “Everybody Hurts.”

The band managed to carry the Alt. Rock torch for 30 years.

Their final album, Collapse Into Now, was as vital as anything

recorded in their prime.

R.E.M. announced their break-up in 2011. Sure, it seemed

inevitable, but millions of Gen. X.  fans felt as though their parents

were divorcing.  But anyone feeling a vague sense of separation

anxiety  can rest easy, Peter Buck has just released his self-titled


It makes perfect sense that Buck would be the first member

of R.E.M. to take the solo plunge.  Throughout his tenure with the band

Buck has always taken time for side projects like the Minus 5, Taturatura

and the Venus 3 (featuring British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock).

The album opens with “10 Million B.C.”  Blending scratchy,

Caveman vocals, surf guitar breaks, a voodoo backbeat and a (broken)

toy piano solo. It’s a hallucinatory mindbender musically referencing

Cramps,  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the 13th Floor Elevators in

less than three minutes!

Buck wears his 60s influences on his sleeve on three tracks.

“Some Kind Of Velvet Sunday Morning” is a drowsy homage to Lee

Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s  classic duet, “Some Velvet Morning.”

Buck splits vocal duties with Annalisa Tornfelt, Chloe Johnson and

Scott McCaughey. The jangly instrumentation is provided by e bow

boomerang guitars, autoharp, pump organ and glockenspiel.

“Nothing Matters” is a shimmery pastiche that echoes the

Left Banke and the Turtles.  Swirly organ fills and a soaring 12 string

Rickenbacker solo camouflage the bleak lyrics.

Matching click-track percussion, modal guitar riffs and a

sawing violin,  “Arrive Without Traveling” is a trippy, psychedelic

roundelay. The vaguely East Indian underpinnings recall the Beatles

during their Maharishi period.

Who knew Peter Buck was such a Blues aficionado?

He covers two seminal Blues cuts here, “Give Me Back My Wig”

and   “L.V.M.F.”  The former is a rollicking  Hound Dog Taylor

song  anchored by a locomotive beat and spiraling 12 string guitar

chords. Buck’s vocals straddle the line between lascivious

and sepulchral.

Opening with cloying Harpsichord trills,   “L.V.M.F”

almost feels like a lost Patridge Family track. But the sweet

instrumental loop provides an antidote to the scabrous

(and expletive laced) Sonny Boy Williamson rant originally

titled  “Little Village.”

This is a solo effort in name only.  Buck receives  copious

support from Minus 5 compadres, drummer Bill Riefin and guitarist

Scott McCaughey. Bass  duties are split between Mike Mills (R.E.M.)

and Ric Menck  (Velvet Crush). Also helping out are Patti Smith Group

guitarist  Lenny Kaye and Sleater-Kinney vocalist Corin Tucker.

All these players come together on the album’s centerpiece,

“Nothing Means Nothing.” Quicksilver guitar riffs, a tribal beat

and Farfisa organ fills  provide a solid foundation. Corin Tucker

channels her inner Patti Smith, handling lead vocals. The lyrics  are

a  Nihilist’s delight…”Everything is gray and beautiful in the dying

light, so is that all there is, another dead day gone/ Dead leaves  on

the ground, old men never around, And you ask me why nothing

means nothing to me.”

Other highlights here include the ghostly 12 bar blues of

“Hard Old World,” the frenzied farewell of “So Long Johnny,” the

droning instrumental, “Migraine,” and the East L.A. funk of

“Vaso Loco.”

“Nowhere No Way,” is a twangy loser’s lament offering

this philosophical nugget:  “Sometimes when you fuck up, it

can focus the mind.”

The album closes with a Garage Rock workout, “I’m Alive.”

Although it’s a cover of an old Tommy James & The Shondells

number, Buck makes it his own. The lyrics  offer up a perfect mantra

for Buck’s current state of mind…”I’m alive and I’m sitting here

doing my thing/ I’m alive and I’m seeing things mighty clear today.”

This album is only available on vinyl. No CD, or downloads

or file-sharing. That seems perfectly apropos for a record collector

like Buck.  He seems to be saying this is something special, and you

need to make an effort to enjoy it.

By delving into his influences and re-interpreting favorites

Buck has made it possible to look toward the future, and start a new

musical chapter of his life.