It’s midday on a sober afternoon, but I want to get this one out of the way. This is easily the worst R.E.M. album until they got seriously old and boring. The college rock years are a few years in the past, but the band is halfway towards their later period dadrock/deathsongs and early irony. So the political songs end up incoherent (would you know that “Orange Crush” is somehow Vietnamish unless you read as much online), and the quieter songs are filled with mandolins without being focused on death or other heavy topics. Not that R.E.M. aren’t great at being political as well as artistic, but these interchangeable major-key janglers aren’t doing much for anyone unless “Stand” being catchy is enough to excite your neurons, in which case I recommend The fucking Eagles.
See, once upon a time I half-lived on Brunswick Street and I was happy. Living at College and Spadina is like being invisible You’re surrounded by incomprehensible studying and yelling and you think that you fit right in, but when you get older you realize that it isn’t and never was about you: it was about your age, your number. And everyone else sees you as the mote in a mass of young people that you are; just another note in a cacophony of idealism and when you turn twenty-two you’re done. You’re not of there anymore, and you see, too late, that you were never there. R.E.M. at this point are hanging on to that past, 29 year-old guys who’ve just secretly bought tickets for New York but are trying to play the ElMo as if they don’t go to bed at midnight five nights a week these days.
What’s funny is that Green was R.E.M.’s major label debut (the album title itself is probably a sardonic reference to their new status as millionaires), and they received a lot of flack for selling out (ah the things we cared about in the late 80s/early 90s!) and yet this is the least accessible album they’d put out thus far in their career. Not that “Orange Crush” isn’t a great song (“I Remember California” too), but they’re incomprehensible, and without warning the album’ll lurch into an uber-artistic mandolin strum crapfest. Other than “Stand” there isn’t an easy single here; “Orange Crush” only makes it by being uniquely off-centre (and even then it gets tiresome after 40 listens or so).
Actually, the best song here may be the cutesy untitled closer, which sounds both more epic and more childlike the more you hear it. I suppose I should mention “World Leader Pretend” somehow too, but ultimately R.E.M. are artist’s artists, and Michael Stipe the last lead singer warrior-poet, and things were ready for their second peak. This is an ebb.