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September 22nd, 2004

New R.E.M.? Not So Good

Anyone who knows me knows that R.E.M. is my favorite band, and has been my favorite band for a very, very long time. They’re one of the few artists whose complete catalog is in my collection, and I can pull out any one of their albums (particularly older ones) and instantly enjoy it.

That’s why I was happy to hear that their new disc, Around the Sun, was being streamed over at myspace.com. I gave the whole thing a listen yesterday and my first impression, as much as it pains me to say it, is that it ain’t all that great. Certainly better than most schlock out there today, but not stellar.

While their previous two albums Up and Reveal were largely criticized for being too mid-tempo and trying too hard to be hip, I think Around the Sun tries even harder. Lots more electronic blips and bleeps, and Q-Tip (!) joins in on a rap. (!)

The other problem with the album is that since Bill Berry left the band, R.E.M. has increasingly sounded like Michael Stipe With A Small, Two-Person Backing Band. ATS isn’t an exception. I don’t feel like the other two band members really put in much to this. It might not be bad if Stipe brought his best stuff to the outing but, in my mind, the album is stuffed with lyrics – it’s almost too wordy. And those lyrics? Not terribly great.

Finally, Stipe has said in interviews that this disc is as politically charged as 1987’s Document. I say, no way – I can’t hear all of that. Sure, sure, lyrically it has quite a few references to Bush and the like. But with Document I could feel it in the music, too. It was organic, charged with energy – alive. The deepest song on Around the Sun doesn’t make itself sound important; it just sits in the corner, waiting for someone to stop by and notice what it’s saying.

Naturally I’ll give the album another listen or two. With the disc before this, Reveal, it took time to grow on me – and eventually I liked 2/3rds of it, but I don’t feel a need to come back to it. Maybe the bottom line is that this three-piece R.E.M. just isn’t making the same connections with me, and it’s time to listen to some Kid Rock instead.

Posted in Television, Movies, and Music

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