The jangle is back! Jangle jangle arpeggios everywhere! This is a good thing
I can sympathize with the idea of “losing my religion,” like last night, when I had a disagreement with my girlfriend and ended up leading her into a parking garage, wherein, to punish myself for my previous embarrassment, I wandered around a corner and hit my head against the wall of the parking garage. I was by now drunk and tired, so I tried to sleep on the floor of the parking garage. That’s where my nearly crying girlfriend found me and angrily brought me to her home. That scene is missing, but at her apartment I spent a good half an hour talking about how much I wanted to hurt myself and detailing the ways I wanted to do so. When she tired of this hurtful nonsense and told me I should leave I promptly did so, even as she followed me into the elevator to try and get me to stay. I walked, subwayed, and streetcarred back home, cursing at myself and my life in my head. On getting home I scrawled on post-it notes the following in barely readable capital letters: “YOU ARE NOT THAT BAD CALM DOWN YOU DID WHAT YOU THINK IS RIGHT DO NOT APOLOGIZE YOU ARE NOT A BAD MAN” then I chainsmoked and then I passed out, sleeping for about five hours and waking up with (surprise!) a sore head and a ton of guilt. And no, it’s not about losing faith in any god, it more means losing your civility. And yes, “Losing My Religion” is a great song.
Similarly, I can only imagine that R.E.M. lost not their religion but their fucking minds when they put “Radio Song” as the lead track here. It starts as a nice jangly arpeggio with interesting lyrics (“The world is collapsing / Around our ears” will unfortunately be in my head forever) but quickly transitions into awful white-boy funk. That KRS-One guests raps is impressive for R.E.M.’s reputation, but further terribles up side one track one. I get that it’s the band taking the piss out of themselves and all, but this prominent position is maybe the worst way to do so.
Except, maybe for “Shiny Happy People,” a song that has to be tongue in cheek for my worldview to remain intact. It’s catchy, sure, but so overwhelmingly cheerful that it couldn’t possibly have come from R.E.M. Right? It’s a joke, right? And it’s side two track one! I somewhat love the guys for fucking with their audience so blatantly, but it isn’t the most pleasant listening.
The rest of the album, however, is pretty tee-fucking-riffic. I mentioned that the jangle is back, and this time it sounds like the R.E.M. you probably know: extremely clean, distinct rock-quartet instruments, with keyboards and strings where the band thinks they’re necessary (not often this time around, lucky for you). The college days are gone, and they’re a bunch of middle-aged white guys making “art” and at their best when they aren’t abashed about it.
Few of the songs have traditional choruses, yet you’ll remember how all of them go. Notably they uncage the bassist’s charming tenor, and it goes quite well with Stipe’s most mellifluous lower end. I’m partial to the artsy-as-fuck “Belong” and the album’s ending duo of relationship songs, the mostly acoustic classic “Country Feedback” and the upbeat repeat-the-riff-a-million-times-trick-led “Me In Honey,” (though girlfriend would hate the female backup singer I reckon) but you might dig the Beach Boys-y “Near Wild Heaven,” the sad instrumental “Endgame,” and jangle-rocker “Texarkana” as well.
In fact, the whole album’s a bunch of winners except for the two tongue-in-cheek songs that the band promptly decided to never ever play live. This is a graceful way to enter the band’s middle age, and a fun one at times too. A model for where to be at 32 or whatever. Now all I have to worry about is how, as I get older, all the women I know slowly start looking more and more like my mother, who’s frozen in how she looked when she died at 50 or whatever, and how fucking upset that makes me every time I see a familiar line or hear a familiar lamentation. I’m pretty much a car crash emotionally about that, still.