R.E.M.s last studio album, possibly ever! At last my long nightmare of listening to one of my favourite bands is nearly over!
This one continues their renaissance as talented elder-statesmen alt-rockers, which is nice, but there’s little of the experimentation and catchiness that was in play last time, and way more ballads, resulting is a much duller and less memorable album, even if it’s still a solid listen.
There’s also far more callbacks to old songs – “Discoverer” is like “Lotus”, U-Berlin is like “Drive”, “Oh My Heart” and “It Happened Today” are super like “New Test Leper”, which was never my favourite mostly-acoustic rambler, even though the band seem to love washing its leprous balls when it gets the chance to talk about it, and “Blue” is so very “E-Bow The Letter”, complete with Patti Smith singing the chorus again.
Like every album since the mid-90s, there’s a solid contingent of flyover songs – including most of the ballads and a couple of the rockers. That said, of the memorable songs, most are memorable for good reasons instead of bad. “Discoverer” has a great buzzing guitar sound (even if the chorus is tacked on), “It Happened Today” ends with gorgeous wordless harmonies, “Mine Smell Like Honey” has a great title, “Walk It Back” is a proper old-man trope namer, “That Someone Is You” is the one song on here that tries something new and totally succeeds (it’s like 80s pop-punk! cute!), and “Blue”… well, I personally never get tired of spoken-word art shit, and that Finnegans Wake wraparound into “Discoverer”, while nothing new, is new for R.E.M. and also works.
But here’s something that doesn’t work, and makes me a bit glad for the breakup: Michael Stipe has a new penchant for fast-paced, often stupid aabb rhymes. “This is not a parable / This is so terrible” or “I feel like an alligator / When I’m on the escalator” or “This is not a lie / It’s not all cherry pie” – it’s a disturbing trend from a band that once led the world in neat-o pensive, wonderfully opaque lyrics. Though he does pull out some old magic in “Blue” with the tearjerking “I want Walt Whitman proud / Patti Smith proud / My sisters proud” talk.
So, this album isn’t quite Myspace Top 8 worthy, but give it a couple million (on CD) spins, R.E.M. may not go out on top, but they go out with not a whimper, but with a dignified handshake and a respectable blowing out of the candles.
7 / 10