The rumours are true!
I was primed against liking this album by all the negative reviews I’ve read over the years and the general downward trajectory of the R.E.M. factory’s output over the last couple albums (and downhill slide toward obsolescence), but no, really, most of these songs sound like hookless rewrites of songs off of the already boring Reveal.
Do you like that neat descending guitar line that starts album opener “Leaving New York”? It’s not terribly original, but it’s nicely atmospheric and sticks in your head, yeah? Well, that riff is gone after twenty seconds, and it’s the most memorable part of the entire album! And the rest of that song sounds like “I’ll Take The Rain”, albeit about a better topic (mm, New York). There’s a song that features a rapper (Q-Tip! Such a vivrant thing!), in a decision no band of white guys should ever make but still do to this day. There’s a song that keeps talking about being loved by Jesus. There’s a song that has “didn’t you”s that bring to mind “Like A Rolling Stone” to no great effect. There’s a song about Michael Stipe, shockingly, not liking George W. Bush. Mostly, there are just lots of songs that start and end with aimless-sounding acoustic strumming or delicate piano trilling that are gone once they’re over. There isn’t much point in trying to talk about songs like “I Wanted To Be Wrong” or “The Boy In The Well” because they’re notable only for being on the album and occupying my ears for a few minutes like they’re Brian Eno tracks. In fact, I just jumped to the middle of both of them and couldn’t tell them apart.
I suppose there are positives. As a bunch of millionaires, they can sure as sugar pay for top line production, and every moment of this disappointing, audience-boring blah sounds just lovely. Stipe’s voice is as mellifluous as it could ever be, the keyboard wash over everything like a warm bath, the electric guitar (when Buck feels like playing a few Gilmour-esque notes) blends in well. The bleeps and bloops, while they pop up, are kept to a minimum. But that doesn’t help the album have more than zero actually interesting songs.
Also, “The Outsiders” actually has a good drum beat before taking the laffy taffy and having Q-Tip rap it up. “The Final Straw” has a nice angry folk acoustic guitar riff before the limp lyrics ruin the sense of outrage, and the swirling violins at the start of the next song make you want to turn the album into a frisbee. “Aftermath” and “Wanderlust” would fit in nicely on a BIRP, aside from the middle-aged guy singing. And that’s the upside: nice indistinguishable gentle indie songs. And the downsides: the sad attempts (luckily I count only two) to sound relevant and the dullness and the fact that I’m glad when it’s over because there is no reason to listen to anything again unless I want background music for when my dad comes over, if I’m scared he’ll judge me for playing Feist. And I don’t even invite my dad over.
4 / 10