Toward the twilight of the 1980s, armed only with a bubblegum-pink tape deck and an increasingly threadbare cassette of R.E.M.’s fifth and final independent-label LP, Document, your young correspondent attempted to decipher all the lyrics to this exemplum of R.E.M.’s angular, corrosive High Reagan period. It’s a testament to the song’s lasting appeal — which includes its dance-party guitar riff, thrashing drums and cheerfully apocalyptic mind-set (first lines: “That’s great, it starts with an earthquake!”) — that “End of the World” has retained its air of mystery all these years. (“Representing seven games”? “Representatives engaged”? If only I still had that pink tape deck.) Consciously composed as a sped-up spoke-sung homage to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the song has since cemented its legacy as a go-to headline whenever anything — including R.E.M. — comes to an amicable end.
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