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Who Is Superior, R.E.M. or Soul Asylum?

Who Is Superior, R.E.M. or Soul Asylum?

[Editor's note: Deathmatch pairs two artists who have something in common, and determines who is better. It's a concept we sort-of ripped off from MTV, except that instead of claymation it's the printed word!]

See also:

*The Talking Heads Were Way More Innovative Than The Ramones

*Stravinsky vs. Schoenberg: Who Was More Gangsta?

The alt-rock explosion of the '80s and '90s gave us titans like R.E.M. as well as also-rans, like Soul Asylum. Although the world has stuck with Michael Stipe through his many years of weirdness, folks more or less forgot about Dave Pirner around the time he and Winona Ryder split. But that doesn't mean one's outfit is better than the other's. Below, then, through an arbitrary-seeming-but-actually-deadly-accurate set of criteria, we shall determine who is superior.

Who Is Superior, R.E.M. or Soul Asylum?

Lyrical Depth

"Everybody Hurts" sounds like some kind of joke, as if Michael Stipe took Advanced Maudlin Lyrics at Athens Community College. It's not so much affected sorrow, it's Stipe deliberately playing up the tormented lyricist thing. "Everybody hurts / Sometimes." Glorious exposition, comrade!

Soul Asylum, meanwhile, often employs a dopey, earnest simplicity. "They say misery loves company / We could start a company and make misery." They like to make funny out of depression or, in the case of "Sometime To Return" express the human condition simply and directly: "Doing the best I can / Living without a plan." You and me both, Dave.

Point: Soul Asylum

Frontman's Hair

Stipe's comes in two flavors: Curly youthful locks and Kojak. Pirner's gorgeous, flowing blond locks, on the other hand, only get better with age.

Point: Soul Asylum

Famous Detractors

Dennis Leary isn't a fan of "Shiny Happy People." "Pull that bus over to the side of the pretentiousness turnpike," goes one of his routines. "I want everybody off the bus. I want the shiny people over here, and the happy people over here, okay! I represent angry gun-toting meat-eating fucking people, alright! Sit down and shut the fuck up Michael!"

None other than Paul Westerberg himself famously derided Pirner and Co. as "the B-Team." Keep in mind that Westerberg remains the brooding poet laureate of Minneapolis rock, and lesser bands would have lost the confidence to persevere in the face of such a harsh dis. Not Pirner and the boys. They said "fuck you" by cutting Hang Time, one of the great unsung records of the late 1980s.

Point: Soul Asylum

 

Legacy

Ever tune into an adult album alternative station? Give a listen. That endless parade of Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows and Toad The Wet Sprocket songs is R.E.M.'s legacy. File under: Jangly shit your parents adore.

Now consider Soul Asylum. Love or hate the over-earnest, Boss-influenced post-punk stylings of Hot Water Music, The Gaslight Anthem, Lucero and Titus Andronicus, it still kicks the living shit out of every band that has name checked R.E.M. since Kurt Cobain bit a gun.

Point: Soul Asylum

Replacement Members

R.E.M. lost a drummer and tried to do without. The result was underwhelming. Soul Asylum lost a bassist and replaced him with Replacement Tommy Stinson. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Paul Westerberg.

Point: Soul Asylum

Overall

It's a bloodbath. The first couple R.E.M. records have their moody, jangly charm. But the band quickly degenerated into self-consciously "smart" morose stupidity. "Losing My Religion?" Well, we know we lost ours.

In contrast, Soul Asylum built a slow burn career as alt-rock also-rans. A lack of sustained mainstream success never deterred them. They were happy to be a blue-collar band playing second-tier clubs. Soul Asylum have more rock n' roll in one of Dave Pirner's dreads than all of R.E.M.

It is written.

See also:

*The Talking Heads Were Way More Innovative Than The Ramones

*Stravinsky vs. Schoenberg: Who Was More Gangsta?


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