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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 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

FROM: jk
DATE: Wednesday September 22, 2004 -- 9:30:19 am
Kid Rock?

I still stand by my statement that they have not released a brilliant album since Lifes Rich Pageant.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Wednesday September 22, 2004 -- 10:08:59 am
What of Automatic for the People?

FROM: dave
DATE: Wednesday September 22, 2004 -- 1:00:21 pm
I gave up on them after Monster came out - it's been a long slow decline since then. Murmur and Life's Rich Pageant are still among my all-time favorite albums.

FROM: redgotee
DATE: Wednesday September 22, 2004 -- 1:54:07 pm
I admit that R.E.M. is talented, intelligent, and influential. however i was forever changed one summer day back in '92/'93ish - when a roommate of mine smoked some wacky tabaccy and played the same REM song over and over and over and over and over..... forever ruining them for me (don't know if this is the name or not ,but it was the song that said "its the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine") Mind you this is the same guy who a) drove a Yugo b) tried to dye his skin pink c) jumped from a 5-story water tower into a nearby tree on a dare while in the midst of an LSD-fest.

He always paid the rent on time though.... so i couldn't complain.

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Thursday September 23, 2004 -- 2:48:16 pm
What's wrong with Yugos? Despite the bad press, they run well and get great gas mileage. I've got one with 275,000 miles on it. No kidding. And, they keep their value.
Every penny.

As for REM, the writing was on the was with the release of Green. It's pretty much been downhill from there. Not to say that there are no good songs on subsequent albums because there are. But starting with Murmur and ending with Document the entire albums were excellent. Murmur, of course, was not just ground breaking but earth shattering. Chronic Town, which apparently was released before Murmur, is also lots of fun.

The last REM I bought was Monster and l listened to it once or twice. I refused to beat it into my head. The last one I enjoyed for a few songs was Automatic for the People. After that, Mikey just became way too whiney and L.A., and totally lost touch with his southern roots and influences. The band members began to flee.

In the 1990s, Peter Buck would show up all the time in New Orleans at a venue called "Tipitina's." He would just be in the audience, but would always manage to get on stage for a number or two, whoever was playing--that's how much he was dying to wail on his guitar. I saw him jump on stage with Drivin' and Cryin' and there were always reports from my friends that at whatever show they went to at Tip's that Peter Buck jumped on stage. Mike Mills did it occassionally, but Pete seemed like a regular. He'd show up at another place called Jimmy's quite a bit in those days as well. He might still, for all I know. I don't live there anymore.

I think they felt abandoned or nostalgic for the smaller venue days. It was sort of sad. Mike just kept getting more and more L.A. and here were these guys playing the clubs.

FROM: DancesWithMice2
DATE: Wednesday September 29, 2004 -- 6:37:39 pm
R.E.M. hasn't had a decent album since "Murmur."

FROM: Paul
DATE: Tuesday March 8, 2005 -- 1:02:01 pm
As I said in September what of Automatic for the People?

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