When comedian Andy Kaufman died of lung cancer in 1984, half of America thought it was just another of his provocative, crowdconfusing stunts. Best known in Britain as the comically incoherent Latka Gravas in the longrunning sitcom [I]Taxi[/I], Kaufman was an eccentric TV superstar in the US with a volatile reputation and a Tommy Cooperstyle idiot savant stage persona. His redneckbaiting sideline as an ‘intergender’ wrestler, along with surreal guest slots on [I]David Letterman[/I] and [I]Saturday Night Live[/I], earned him a cult following akin to that of John Belushi or Bill Hicks.
Now director Milos Foreman has immortalised Kaufman in a film starring Jim Carrey and Courtney Love, both avowed fans of the doomed comic. REM are fellow devotees, staking their first oblique claim in the Kaufman cult with ‘Man On The Moon’, a stylishly monochrome countrypop romp on their 1992 career peak ‘Automatic For The People’. Thus they were natural choices to compose this, their first film score, which includes both the original twangtastic tribute ballad and a brief, sparkling instrumental reprise for piano and strings. It’s still a grand tune but, ominously, the best thing here.
Crucially, there are very few glimpses of fullon REM amid this scrappy patchwork of sketchy mood pieces. Their sole new song is ‘The Great Beyond’, a hangover from their recent world tour which begins as a woozy, spacerock shimmer before swelling to rustic anthem dimensions. Stipe warbles lustily about falling pianos and pushing elephants upstairs, which may not have anything to do with Kaufman at all. It finds the Georgian supergroup on slightlyaboveaverage autopilot, the very least we can expect from them and probably the main reason why fans will buy this album. Elsewhere though, they will be shortchanged.
Completists might find some perverse charm in Stipe‘s vaudeville duet with Jim Carrey on the goofball ‘Friendly World’, which is marred by Carrey’s overthetop, Bugs Bunny bellowing. The REM instrumentals ‘Miracle’, ‘Andy Fired’ and ‘Milk And Cookies’ are elegant, oneminute fragments, nice enough but too brief to make an impact.
And the rest is filler: dialogue snippets, the classic, loungecore sparkle of the [I]Taxi[/I] theme, CarreyasKaufman doing his cheesy retrocrooner routine on various dusty Broadway ballads and the Gloria Gaynor disco standard ‘I Will Survive’. Blame cultural differences, or the passage of time, but if Kaufman was really this tiresomely zany it’s a wonder he ever became famous at all. He sounds like crushingly unfunny subVic Reeves light entertainer Lenny Beige on a bad night.
So then, a lacklustre REM EP padded out with too much ambient ballast and oodles of superfluous goonery. On balance, wait for the movie.