Review of the most underwhelming installment in R.E.M.’s legendary discography
By Carter Bagley
Here we have an album that both fans and the band alike have considered a mistake. By 2003 R.E.M. were in the lowest and the most misguided point in their career. After their previous album “Reveal” which was a commercial failure compared to other R.E.M. albums and although it wasn’t necessarily bad, it was no doubt disappointing. They needed something new and hard-hitting to revive their career and from the first few songs on “Around The Sun” it sounds a little like that, however that isn’t the case. The slow and fantastic “Leaving New York” opens the record and instantly I love the song. It’s a low key ballad that has a deeper meaning than the majority of “Reveal” and Michael Stipe again writes like he actually has something personal to say. “Electron Blue” isn’t necessarily the same but it’s sung well enough and has enough original and interesting instrumentation to hold your attention. However most of the songs are too straightforward lyrically and instrumentally than the R.E.M. we all love. “Make It All Okay” is a fantastic example as to how they could still craft lovely melodies and harmonies but lyrically they landed in cheesy hallmark card territory. Lyrically I’d even say that “Around The Sun” is worse than it’s predecessor in many ways but instrumentally it’s considerably better. They almost completely abandoned the over-produced digital sound they grew fond of over the few albums that came before this. This was a great decision as their natural sound is something I always loved about R.E.M. “Final Straw” is a highlight amongst the album and it’s protesting and Stipe proved he had many things to say during Bush-era America. It’s not as vibrant and loud as it could’ve been but it’s undoubtedly a song that’s worth listening to. After this the album just goes right back to where it was however and it fools you into kind of liking the songs on first listen but then when you listen to them more they appear hollow and meaningless. “Wanderlust” is a decent upbeat jangly pop song though and I actually quite enjoy it. Stipe sounds energetic with his vocals which is something this album really lacks compared to early-R.E.M. Something this album does improve on though compared to “Reveal” is the length of the songs. Most of them are shorter which is good for a song that really doesn’t have much to say. “Boy In The Well” although is the only exception and at five and a half minutes long mixed with an unwelcome country sound it’s almost abysmal to sit through. The rest of the album that follows is just boring and almost puts me to sleep. The thing is this record obviously isn’t a good one, but it’s also not so bad it’s funny (like this year’s Desiigner single “Panda”) and instead it’s just meaningless and boring. To be honest I can’t think of anything that’s much worse that that, because if there’s one thing rock music shouldn’t be it’s boring.
Highlights: Leaving New York, Final Straw, Wanderlust
Lowlights: Make It All Okay, Boy In The Well, High Speed Train, The Worst Joke Ever