Complete freedom after a long spell in a very successful rock band has its privileges. Peter Buck (Mississippi/Change), the new good-time album by ex-R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, is one of them. It is the first solo music to emerge since he, bassist Mike Mills and singer Michael Stipe dissolved that band in 2011. But you'll need a turntable to play this fun. An ardent record collector, Buck has issued his debut effort only on black 12-inch wax, with no download code, through a label associated with a great Portland, Oregon, store: Mississippi Records.
The guitarist also made Peter Buck the way he used to wish R.E.M. worked more often: fast. He cut and mixed all 14 tracks in five days, and he did it with friends, including Mills, Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney. Drummer Bill Rieflin and guitarist Scott McCaughey, who both toured and recorded with the post-Bill Berry R.E.M. (the latter is Buck's bandmate in the Minus 5 too), are all over the record.
Present in Spirit
Stipe does not appear on Peter Buck. But "Nothing Matters," sung by McCaughey with Mills and Rieflin, and "Nothing Means Nothing," which has a haunting lead performance by Tucker, would have suited him nicely. Both songs have the strident, moody gait and dusky-guitar sparkle of 1987's Document, and the vocal melodies reveal much about Buck's role in the writing of his old band's best work. If there had been one more R.E.M. album after 2011's underrated Collapse Into Now, "Nothing Matters" and "Nothing Means Nothing" could have been sure-fire highlights.
The rest of Peter Buck is all over the garage-jollies map. "10 Million BC," which stars Buck in grizzly Lux Interior vocal form, is immediately followed by "It's Alright," a peculiar hybrid of rhythm-machine march and the musky foreboding of Dr John's 1968 album Gris-Gris. A cover of "Give Me Back My Wig" by Chicago-boogie legend Hound Dog Taylor comes with a fuzzed-up steel-guitar freakout by McCaughey. The title of "Travel Without Arriving" is a twist on the George Harrison line in the Beatles' 1968 b-side "The Inner Light" ("Arrive without travelling"), while the music is a rapturous homage to that single's textural eccentricity with fuzzy bass, harmonium and backwards-tape japes.
Spin the Black Circle
As a statement on what Buck plans to do with the rest of his professional life, Peter Buck is a straight shot of clarity. The emphasis is on the productive blast you can have with your best musician-friends and the license that comes with stardom and a hip, sharing energy. When you have so many of the former, revel in them. When you have so much of the latter, don't waste it.
In that sense, Peter Buck is a rough, fresh chunk of the pure spirit and uncompromised instinct that made R.E.M. one of America's best rock bands. That you can only get this album on vinyl isn't elitism – it's an invitation. If you don't have a turntable, here's a fine reason to get one.