Review of the album that turned R.E.M. from a beloved indie band to one of the biggest rock bands on the planet
By Carter Bagley
The 90’s was a whole different ballpark for R.E.M. They almost don’t even feel like the same band. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as they released some great music in the 90’s but it’s just definitely a different feel from their previous stuff. They quit doing such extensive tours in favor of huge tours going from big city to big city and their albums were a couple years apart. It opens up with the very strange “Radio Song” that I can respect for trying something new but it’s still a pretty annoying song. They mix talking parts with R&B and hip-hop at different parts and it’s not really performed well and doesn’t go good with the rest of the song either. The lyrics are mediocre and cliche just to top it off, I never really understood why people like this song or how it became a single. The hit single and music video that launched them into super stardom was the massively successful “Losing My Religion”. Unlike most other bands like Oasis whose biggest song is “Wonderwall” and doesn’t really reflect the quality of their other songs, I can’t say the same for this one. It was extremely popular and it totally deserves it. Michael Stipe’s vocals are catchy and introspective and the lyrics are brilliant and the classic video that accompanied it was also genius. It’s one of those decade defining songs and it’s a true masterwork and among the best in the band’s catalog. The album kind of goes back to what it was before though with the song “Low” that’s just underwhelming as a whole. Michael Stipe seems uninspired along with the rest of the band and the lyrics are kind of repetitive and boring. I don’t really understand what this song was ever going for but it doesn’t quite get there despite not being a downright bad song by any means. Track 4 “Near Wild Heaven” is very enjoyable though and one of the few on the album that’s almost solely responsible for me returning to it more than a few times. It sounds like a new era for the band into a pop rock direction but if all of their songs in this decade were going to be as good as this and “Losing My Religion” I’d be totally fine with that. The backing vocals are enjoyable and the chorus is brilliant. “Endgame” starts off quieter and simple and it leads into a beautiful guitar progression that you hear throughout the tune and as new instruments are introduced it stays a very pretty and mostly-instrumental track. The second big single for this record was track 6 “Shiny Happy People”. It’s a very charming and thoughtful song but you can hear 90’s cliches mixed in with it. Nonetheless it’s one of the band’s biggest singles though I think in a lot of ways it was just piggybacking off the success of “Losing My Religion”. It’s a bit preachy and aged but it’s still produced and composed very well and it remains a great and catchy single though almost in an entirely new way than when it was released. “Belong” begins a catchy beat and leads into a more normal R.E.M. beat and it’s verses are spoken while the chorus is mostly made up of Ohhh’s and even though it’s a rather unconventional song it’s still different and refreshing and has a charm surrounding it though I can’t say it really impacts the album all that much. “Half A World Away” is a song that sounds like it’s a single and would’ve been a better one than “Radio Song” but for whatever reason it wasn’t. The guitar is nice and plucky and Michael Stipe delivers some of his best vocals on the whole record. The lyrics are approachable but they’re expertly written and this proves to be one of the band’s most underrated songs with some poetic lines and beautiful instrumentation. “Texarkana” is enjoyable filler and isn’t bad or anything it’s just a song I kind of forget when looking back on the album. It’s still a decent song and Stipe’s different vocals are probably the most redeeming part of this song and I will say the chorus is actually near perfect it just needs to be a little bit longer and I think some of the bass lines are kind of off-putting. Finally as the album gets close to the end one of the best songs on the record begins and tells you that R.E.M. still had something magical going on in 1991. Slow southern acoustic guitar and beautifully written but choppy lyrics add up to a song that’s pretty much pure poetry. It hurts you to hear it as the whole things builds up and you feel the pain of the protagonist pouring himself into the song and it gets repetitive but that definitely adds up to the feeling of the song. I totally understand why it wasn’t a single because it’s not very marketable but it’s quality is undeniable. Finally the record closes with the song “Me In Honey” and it’s kind of a weird choice for an album to go out on but I still have nothing bad to say about it. The instrumentation is sassy enough and the vocals and the feminine backing vocals are new and entertaining. This album is truly one of the most famous in their catalog though it’s very divisive for me. The highs are very high and are some of the best songs of their career and the lows (which is pretty much half the album) are just very mediocre. The band showed their future potential and where they were going to take their group in the future though and it’s still a quality, slow and experimental effort from R.E.M. and I really appreciate that.
Highlights: Losing My Religion, Near Wild Heaven, Shiny Happy People, Half A World Away, Country Feedback
Lowlights: Radio Song, Low, Belong