Saturday, April 26, 2008

REM Returns From A Trip Around The Sun

I'm sorry to post right on top of Eric's essay, but I can't contain my love for the new R.E.M. CD any longer. In summary, it's smart, it's catchy, it's succinct and it actually rocks really hard.

A little background on my personal relationship with R.E.M. I really love their earliest albums and their mid-90's work. Murmur, their first record, might still be their best, but who could argue with Reckoning or Automatic For The People? I also love Fables of the Reconstruction, Life's Rich Pageant, New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Up. (I know it's not cool to like Up, but Tex Plush can back me up on that one.) Really I love almost everything they've ever done (including Monster)... up until Reveal, which was disappointment personified, and Around the Sun, which was borderline horrendous.

As bad as they'd been recently, Accelerate is near total redemption. I'm particularly thrilled with the punk-like energy on tracks like "Living Well Is The Best Revenge," "I'm Gonna DJ" and "Horse to Water," the latter of which can be heard below.

And where there isn't punk energy, there's awesome melodies and appropriately political lyrics, like on "Mr. Richards."

Yeah, the album isn't perfect. "Hollow Man," "Houston," and "Until the Day Is Done" are all fine but unremarkable. But there isn't any jaw-droppingly bad song wrought with self-righteousness a la "I'll Take The Rain" or "I Wanted To Be Wrong"-- lowlights from their two prior releases. The worst songs on this album are merely good.

To conclude, I've been listening to this album non-stop since I got it, so much so that I haven't even had time to listen to the new Sun Kil Moon, which I bought on the same day. Check it out.


Quinapalus said...

Those sound great! Is that second one about Michael Richards? I couldn't really tell, but that was the first thing that leaped to my head--if so, awesome.

Eric said...

"Essays" are way more organized and composed. I'd call it more of a stream-of-consciousness rant. Nevertheless, I tentatively, heartily agree with you. I don't even own Around the Sun (in CD or pirated download form) because when I listened to a stream of the album on myspace or somewhere, it offended me with its bland awfulness.

My own history:

OUT OF TIME is one of the first albums I owned (on tape, of course), and is certainly the only album that I listened to in fifth grade that I might take out and listen to today. I learned how to play guitar playing songs from AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (and never progressed much further). And then later on, I worked my way back through their old catalog. Today, my favorites are their first three IRS albums + CHRONIC TOWN EP, with MURMUR coming out on top. When REVEAL came out, I kind of loved it because of its Beach Boys fetishism, but I took it out recently and it's really quite weak. The songs just aren't interesting and way too long (incidentally, while I think UP is underrated and pleasantly atmospheric, it could easily be half the length. There are songs on there that are six minutes that have NO business being six minutes-- I hope you can at least admit that, Drischord). So basically, I had all but given up on them and this album is such a breath of fresh air. It's still kind of REM-by-the-numbers-- it doesn't break any ground that LIFES RICH PAGEANT or DOCUMENT didn't already cover much more effectively (and the single is a little bit too straightforward), but it all rocks, the songs are short, and most importantly, Mike Mills' backing vocals are back (though still not as much as they should be). He is the secret to the band's success (besides Bill Berry, of course-- man, never has the most seemingly inessential member of a band been more vindicated. I mean, seriously, his most notable quality was his uni-brow, but it turns out he was also somehow absolutely vital to the band creating good, interesting pop music also!).
I think a lot of the REM-is-Back! PR is tiresome, but it's really true here.

On the other hand, check this BRILLIANT dissection of Rolling Stone magazine's critical coverage of REM's last few albums.

Punctures the bullshit beautifully.

drischord said...

Q, I think it's possible that the song is about Michael Richards, but it could be about a lot of people. Typical Stipe, the lyrics are never quite transparent enough to know exactly what he means, but many interpretations can work.

I recommend buying the CD over the download because a) it includes lyrics, b) the artwork is cool and c) I like collecting CD's. I don't collect anything else, unless you count second-tier guitars.

texplush said...

'I'm going to DJ" is one of the worst songs I've ever heard.
"Living Well" is the closest thing to a hook on the whole album.
totally overated.
the guitars sound good.
the tempos are fast.
whoop de fucking do.

drischord said...

Tex, you are wrong. "I'm Gonna DJ" suffers from a terrible rhyming couplet ("Death is pretty final/ I'm collecting vinyl") but by the third listen, you don't even care anymore. They totally bash through that song-- more than any other-- and it's awesome. This is a great album.