Wednesday, June 27, 2012

R.E.M. 15: Around The Sun

Michael Stipe has always been the most arty member of R.E.M., so it was likely his idea to take the bold step of streaming their next album on a social media site before it hit stores—not something that many mainstream bands were doing at the time. It brought the band some publicity, but it probably also had to do with why Around The Sun was not a big seller. Not because people were stealing it online, but because the album isn’t very good.
If anything, the album is just plain ordinary. The very first two tracks are incredibly similar to the point of identity theft; “Leaving New York” got the push in a post-9/11 world, though “Electron Blue” has more bursts from Peter Buck. “The Outsiders”, aka the one with the unnecessary rap by Q-Tip, stands out for that reason alone, and that’s not meant in a good way. There’s no denying how pretty “Make It All Okay” is, and “Final Straw” revives the autumnal acoustic sound for a not-so-subtle political statement, which continues on the very sleepy “I Wanted To Be Wrong”.
“Wanderlust”, with its jaunty British music hall-type of rhythm, has potential to wake things up, but they confuse your toes with a dropped-beat meter. “Boy In The Well” and “High Speed Train” are slow and similar songs both in dire need of bite, but each containing a killer chorus; surely they could have been combined. In between is “Aftermath”, a decent tune washed with those strings they’ve used too much already. “The Worst Joke Ever” stretches a metaphor way too far, befitting the title, but preventing the album from picking up any speed. “The Ascent Of Man” doesn’t either, but somehow the “yeah yeah” chorus works. Then an already too-long album coasts to a close with the title track.
Around The Sun is of a creature with most of their post-Automatic For The People output, in that we desperately want to like it more than we do, but we can’t. Although they’d certainly started to lose their way before Bill Berry left, it was beginning to seem as if he made the wise move. Once upon a time a new R.E.M. was a cause for celebration, and every fan remembers not only the first one they didn’t buy on street date, but the mixed emotions at that tradition having been broken. Why had they been so important to us, anyway?

R.E.M. Around The Sun (2004)—2

1 comment:

  1. I think you are spot on with your final sentence and yet I was still disappointed when they announced their breakup. They hit their peak with Automatic For The People. Even though their next three albums (Monster, New Adventures In Hi-Fi, and Up) had some good songs, they seemed disappointing because they weren't up to the standards of those from Murmur to Automatic For The People. After Up, their albums have been terrible...and, yet, I was really disappointed that they split up because there was still some hope that they might recapture their old magic and make another great record. Maybe Stipe, Mills, and Buck needed to go to Bill Berry's farm and force him to make another album with them. It all seemed to go downhill after he left.