R.E.M. – VH1 Storytellers

Dear sweet Jeebus I’m almost back to reviewing actual R.E.M. albums. I have nothing funny to say because I’m done done done with this forever. Why oh why, as bands age and get boring, do they release several times more live albums? It’s going to be a long next couple of weeks, and not the least because I’m hosting a large political party that’s also the culmination of five weeks of work.

But no matter, did you hear the good news, that R.E.M. were on VH1 Storytellers back in 1999? Oh, it’s true! Long live the good news!  And, lucky us, we get to see that Up was mostly a great album because of studio trickery, and that Michael Stipe doesn’t feel like explaining any songs other than the ones on Up!

Okay, maybe ‘studio trickery’ is a bit harsh, but the songs from that album don’t come across live well, at all. They don’t sound bad, just boring, which is increasingly the problem for R.E.M. going forward from this point. They were always serious artistes, but here they’re not a rock band anymore, and the old rock songs sound tired, and the new ones sound ponderous and dull. And the material here is very Up-centric. And I liked Up! But essentially this album is a bunch of stories surrounding those songs, which weren’t too hard to understand in the first place (turns out that “Walk Unafraid” is about walking unafraid and “Sad Professor” is about a sad professor!), while the earlier songs get joke stories and unrelated anecdotes. It’s not a strictly acoustic performance, but it’s very heavy on the slow, easily acoustic-ed stuff. There’s a few sparse early songs, and a couple big hits (“Losing My Religion” and “Man On The Moon,” the former with an intro of “this song is beloved the world ’round” and the latter with that awful “COOOOOOOOL!!!!” line), and the rest is sitting through songs like “Suspicion” and “The Apologist” and “Daysleeper,” which are songs that I usually like, but work far better on record. Except “Suspicion,” which is just generally terrible. By far the most interesting thing here is Mike Mills singing “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” as a piano number, which is a beautiful and almost funny reimagining, but sustaining that kind of loveliness would be too much damned work.



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