I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about how R.E.M.s don’t real, and I’m here to tell you that R.E.M.s DO real. My belief may make me a minority, of the sort Green Day once wished they could be, but I have incontrovertible evidence on my side: to wit, this album, which is an R.E.M..
There’s plenty of nice things about records (some of them true), but a nice thing about these newfangled MP3 machines that the teenagers drive these fortnights is that you don’t have to listen to ten (minimum) tracks by the same artist at the same time of their carears in order to ingest music. Now, at least sometimes that’s the preferred method of listening. I’ll get in an “R.E.M. mood” or I’ll simultaneously get three Regina Spektor songs stuck in my head, or I’ll have a depressed weekend where all I do is listen to “I See A Darkness “ over and over. However, an album such as, to pick a completely random example, “Reckoning” by R.E.M. isn’t best consumed as a block. On their own nearly all of these songs are solid, but they’re all the damned same. Or at least they’re usually (8/10) the same very nice idea, executed to various degrees of success. They go like this: thin, jangly, catchy guitar riff for four bars, grumpy young man bass and drums produced very basically join in, Stipe says something vaguely poetic and indecipherable for the verses, and the chorus is memorable and clear but charmingly confusing. Follow for tracks 1-4, 6, 7, and 10.
This is definitely a step back from Murmur. In fact, it sounds like a demo for the band that did that album. The production is cheaper (sounding), the songs are less varied but cut from the same cactus. For an alternate version, it sounds like four arts students’ thesis project on modern rock. Part of the sameness comes from the apparent mission to once again have the songs mean whatever the listener takes from them – the sounds blur together in a bunch of nicesoundingnice until you get to the part where he sings “I’m sorry” over and over or “she’s got a pretty persuasion” over and over or tells a strange tale about seven Chinese brothers.
Now, the number of bands that can pull off intentional meaninglessness is very small, and the R.E.M. dudes can – but it gets a bit aww. The two best (and most unusual) tracks are buried in the second half – the pensive “Camera” (and thanks for the weird awful funk jam at the end), and the comprehensible country lilt (and piano) of “(don’t go back to) Rockville”, which features the winning theme of not moving home to your awful small town. At least that’s what I think it’s about. As for the janglers, I’m partial to “Pretty Persuasion” and “So. Central Rain,” for they feature marginally superior riffs and catchier choruses. Though that “heaven is yours” chant from “Letter Never Sent” is pretty haunting too. They’re all pretty good! Except maybe for the too bongoey “Time After Time (annElise)” – I refer you to Stephen Malkmus’ opinion on that one.
Apparently, at the time the dudes were exhausted from touring all the time and having no real homes. Good job, world, making young talented artists have to nearly die before they produce their best work. Hey, fun fact: if you unravelled your intestines they’d be really long and also you’d fucking die.
BUT! HOLD YOUR SEAHORSES! THERE’S EVEN MORE COMING IN THIS REVIEW! TRUST ME, YOU SHOULD KEEP READING!!
Since I have a long-outdated copy of the CD with five extra tracks, I’ll tell you about them, so you don’t have to feel bad for not having them!
THAT’S THE ‘EVEN MORE’ IN QUESTION! KEEP READING TO FIND OUT WHAT HE THINKS OF THE EXTRA SONGS!
The extra songs all show how little the band had in the tank during the recording of this album – there’s “Wind Out” – a barely-there surf-rock tune with Michael Stipe sounding half dead. Then there’s “Pretty Persuasion (Live in Studio)” – can you guess how valuable this thing is? This sounds like more of a sound check – and the verses literally have no words – he mumbles “trinky rinky dinky dink” in lieu of other words. And no in a funny, goofy, Disney way either. Then “White Tornado” is an even less there surf-rock instrumental, less than two minutes long. Then “Tighten Up,” a cover of Archie Bell and the Drells that was obviously never meant for release. It’s a bit embarrassing hearing R.E.M. try to be funky, but hey, if this was the quality of the songs that missed the album then I’m shocked they put an album together. The three non-album tracks (fuck you, live in studio thing) are all depressing because the fun genres don’t work at all filtered through R.E.M.’s tired-art-students-in-a-garage aesthetic. They sound as terribly sad and bleak as a child’s funeral. Finally, there’s a take on “Moon River” which is…kinda cute, and worth it if you can find it.
CREDITS. DENISE RICHARDS AND NEVE CAMPBELL MAKE OUT ONE LAST TIME. IF YOU GET THE REFERENCE I’M SORRY TOO.