R.E.M. – Around The Sun

Around The Sun (2004)

D+

1. Leaving New York 2. Electron Blue 3. The Outsiders 4. Make It All OK 5. Final Straw 6. I Wanted To Be Wrong 7. Wanderlust 8. Boy In The Well 9. Aftermath 10. High Speed Train 11. The Worst Joke Ever 12. The Ascent Of Man 13. Around The Sun

 

Strip away the instrumentation, light experimentation and what little verve there was from Reveal and what have you got? Basic acoustic guitar strumming, some piano, boring synth pads playing basic block chords, Michael Stipe’s wildly overmixed, weary voice… that’s Around The Sun for you – a terrible album devoid of just about everything that once made REM great. Even when they manage to come up with a halfway decent composition, it sounds so glossy, slick and dickless that I can imagine someone icky like Clay Aiken doing some of these songs. I’m serious. He might shy away from the minor key arpeggios that pop up during the verses of this album’s sorry excuse for a lead single, “Leaving New York,” so as not to upset the stomachs of any members of his 80 year-old grandmother fanbase, but he’d be all over that disgustingly sappy “I told you! I love you! I love you! Forever!” bridge. So because this album only has two songs on it that I’ve ever felt like listening to in my life (the bouncy piano pop “Electron Blue,” which is cute despite its near-retarded rhyme scheme, and the overlong and repetitive but certainly decent “Boy In The Well”), I have a few general questions to pose about Around The Sun. Here they are:

What the fuck happened to Peter Buck? Was he even awake during the making of this album? Since when did his role in the band become sitting in the corner of the studio while dejectedly strumming a boring chord sequence on acoustic guitar? Did he not realize that without putting in any effort whatsoever he was dooming this album to adult contemporary hell? That he was assuring that it has little to no actual rock music at all on it? I’ll say it again: THIS ALBUM HAS LITTLE TO NO ACTUAL ROCK MUSIC ON IT. IT’S ALL SLOW, SHITTY BALLADS AND SLOW, SHITTY ADULT CONTEMPORARY POP SONGS. So, way to go, Peter. Go assault another flight attendant.

What the fuck happened to Mike Mills? Did he not realize that his backing vocals were a huge part of REM’s formula for success? He must not have, since I don’t hear his voice AT ALL on this album, outside of one or two fleeting moments. And, more importantly, did he not realize that all the songs he wrote for this album were terrible, and that playing them slowly on piano was not going to help matters at all? I think that one kind of answers itself.

What the fuck happened to Michael Stipe? To begin to answer this particularly stultifying query, we’re going to play a little game. See if you can guess which of these lyrics appear on Around The Sun and which ones come from songs I wrote when I was 15.

 

1. “It’s easier to leave than to be left behind/Leaving was never my proud”

2. “Do the weak ones chose to love you/While the stronger get ahead/Do you attach yourself to children and complicate their pretty heads”

3. “Who am I/I’m just a guy/I’ve got a story like everyone”

4. “But when your face becomes elastic/And your glass has turned to plastic/The time to attack has clearly come and gone”

5. “Well Jesus loves me fine/But his words fall flat this time”

6. “Now love cannot be called into question/Forgiveness is the only hope I hold/And love will be my strongest weapon/I do believe that I am not alone”

7. “Through the rippling dirty water/I saw the future there occur/I raised my voice for all to join me there/But no one would come and see”

8. “Now hesitation pulled me back/I’m stronger when I don’t attract/In your eyes I’m a lamb without a rack and I am getting confused”

9. “Sweet tongued senorita, you left an imprint on my soul/I left you unable to articulate my unformed, naïve goal”

 

Numbers 1, 3, 5, 6 and 8 were all written by world famous singer and lyricist Michael Stipe. The others were written by a snot-nosed high school sophomore. Hard to tell the difference? That’s because of all the problems with Around The Sun, the biggest is the drivel that Stipe decides to pass off as lyrics throughout. And because his voice is mixed so loud and the music he’s backed with is so vanilla and utterly uneventful, they’re completely impossible to avoid. Whose fault is this? Bono. No shit. Stipe was going through some writer’s block during the making of this album, so Bono’s advice to him was to just write, and not worry about whether or not what he came up with was any good. Well, Michael certainly took the “purposefully write shitty lyrics” creed to heart. So thanks Bono! The starving African children will be thrilled with your great good work! Elsewhere, the record might actually have more distinguishable (if hardly good) melodies on it than Reveal, but dude, come on. The lyrics and music (and singing – Stipe’s voice sounds gravelly, weary and disinterested, like he’s busy making a sandwich inside the vocal booth) more than negate them.

And finally, what the fuck happened to Bill Berry? I actually know the answer to that one – he was down at the farm, far away from this shitheap. He must be thrilled.



2 Comments

  1. Emily wrote:

    I lost the game. :[

  2. Justin wrote:

    This album can make a fan angry, I know. This album was the final heap of dirt thrown atop the buried casket that held the spirit and creativity of the now deceased R.E.M.

    D+, huh? Aren’t you being a bit too generous with your grading? That album might be regarded as the worst, most futile, album in recorded music history. Compounded by the fact it was created by a once majestic, righteous, and powerful musical force.

    I can remember buying this when it came out and being shocked at how awful the record was. I forced myself listen to it repeatedly — and over the span of days – just to make certain I hadn’t “misheard” something; that I hadn’t “dreamed” this experience. Yup, listen after listen, spin after spin, yielded the same sad results – it was just awful.

    But some people like the record, or at least some of the tracks on it, which is a head scratcher. You seem to like “Electron Blue” and “Boy in the Well.” (I hated all of them personally). On the plus side, though, is the cover art. The cover art is really sharp continuing a tradition of quality, considered album artwork for R.E.M. Ultimately this is an abysmal record. I give it an F+


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