In Salon and excerpted from his new book A Perfect Circle, Tony Fletcher chronicles the last days of R.E.M.. There’s a touch of the hagiography that accompanies music books like these — I’m a pretty big R.E.M. fan, but, as I said when the band retired, both Collapse Into Now and Accelerate seem like relatively uninspired U2-style conscious-comeback albums, and, in terms of the last decade, I prefer the band’s more experimental work on Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun. Still, worth a read if you’re at all REM-inclined.
The official site has been keeping up with the various encomiums and remembrances on the web. For my part, here’s the list of my 50 favorite R.E.M. songs that I posted in 2005, along with the R.E.M. archives and reviews of Around the Sun and Accelerate. To be honest, I feel like the band has been flirting with U2-covering-themselves territory on the last two albums, but, as a whole, I’ll stand up for their often-maligned later work — Up in particular.
Growing up in the South in the 80′s and 90′s, R.E.M. was ubiquitous. I remember Life’s Rich Pageant accompanying elementary school hayrides, everyone wearing their “Turn You Inside Out” concert tees to school in 8th grade, and crooning “Losing My Religion” with what passed for my high-school band at GSSM. To many of us down in “South Carolina-ravaged South Carolina,” they — and the nearby Athens, Georgia scene — represented a smart, cosmopolitan, and activist left that was still distinctively rooted in the South. Basically, they proved that being southern and being progressive were by no means mutually exclusive.
When I got to college, R.E.M. let their hair down, shook off the earnest stylings of Out of Time and Automatic for the People and decided to release a Monster. It, along with the Beastie’s Ill Communication, are basically the reasons I spent my early sophomore year shorn. (This was taken a few months later.)
And in November of 2004, a few days after Dubya was re-elected, I caught REM as the Garden, where, for the first and only time, they opened with “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” It summed up the moment, precisely.
And, speaking of new albums, R.E.M. has named their upcoming 15th one: Collapse Into Now, due out this Spring. As some who’s come to prefer Around the Sun over Accelerate, here’s hoping it’s more like the former.
“Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine,’ Morello said in a statement announcing the effort. ‘The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me.’” A group of musicians including Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., Billy Bragg, Pearl Jam, the Roots, Rosanne Cash, and David Byrne demand that Gitmo close, and that their music stop being used for torture. “If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued,” Reznor promised.“
“It’s funny. Johnny Marr has a place there, and we are kind of friends. I walked into this ice cream shop, and the guy goes, ‘Jesus, what a weird day.’ He goes, ‘Johnny Marr walked in here like 20 minutes ago, and now you. Is this like indie guitar 80s day or something?’” While cutting a few demos in the Portland area, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck discusses the band’s songwriting process, and his aspirations for the next record. “There are some really pretty acoustic things, some really total noisy rock, and some kind of poppy stuff. It runs the gamut. Ideally, if it were me making all the decisions, I’d say the record would be a lot broader than the last one. But still, I want to do it really quickly and immediately and not do a huge amount of overdubs.“
“In my mind I’m barely scratching the surface here, and not because of what my interpretation means or what inspired the actual lyric, but because there are so many possible interpretations and mine doesn’t really that much matter in the long run. So no, I don’t think I’ll regret sharing a few ‘secrets’ with those who really care about the songs.” (I finally talked to Michael Stipe, he touched me on my arm…) In honor of Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog completing his recent R.E.M. side-project, Pop Songs ’07-08, Stipe drops by to answer your questions about the lyrics. [Part II, Part III.] Great score, Matt, and congrats on finishing up the R.E.M. oeuvre.
Another choice link by way of Web Goddess. Until half an hour ago, I probably would’ve told you my favorite apocalyptic-pop Youtube video was this creepy-weird German mashup set to Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around”. But now it’s probably this ska-happy rendition of Dubya crooning “ITEOTWAWKI (AIFF).” Both are worth watching, if you can get around their innate “not lovely lovely Ludwig Van” eeriness.
“The vista I see now is changing. Uncertainty is suffocating. Our hope has never felt so great…” It’s become fashionable of late to hate on R.E.M.’s last album, 2004′s Around the Sun, so much so that even the band has been badmouthing it lately, dismissing it as a result of them not really getting along at the time. Well, they’d know better than me, but I won’t go there. Sun is clearly overproduced at times but I still think it has its grace moments, all the more so because it’s an album drenched in melancholy and compromise. (And I still like it better than Reveal, and even the back half of New Adventures in Hi-Fi, their last venture with original and much-missed drummer Bill Berry.)
That being said, Accelerate, which officially came out yesterday, is no Around the Sun. It’s just as political as AoS — in some ways, Accelerate is their most overtly political album since Document. But, now, Stipe, Mills, and Buck have gotten the band back together. And, imbued with that sense of team confidence, they’re picking up the pace and taking no more prisoners. The end result is short, fast, and dirty, a half-hour-long album which (as one of my colleagues in US history, southern upbringing, and R.E.M. fandom noted yesterday) probably most recalls 1986′s Life’s Rich Pageant.
From the first track, “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” the difference is manifest. In Around the Sun, R.E.M. were just as political, but much more tentative and unsure of themselves. Remember all the relationship anguish of Sun? Well, now the men from Athens have the wind at their backs. “All your sad and lost apostles hum my name and flare their nostrils, choking on the bones you toss to them. Well I’m not one to sit and spin, ’cause living well’s the best revenge. Baby, I am calling you on that.” The equally aggressive second-track, “Man-Sized Wreath” (i.e. a huge, ridiculous emotional ploy and substitute for thought) takes up the standard with enthusiasm: “Nature abhors a vacuum but what’s between your ears?” That heady sense of being not only on the right side of the argument but — at long last — on the right side of history persists throughout Accelerate and keeps it afloat. “Mr. Richards” jauntily takes glee in a Cheney-esque figure (or at least one of Dubya’s Dicks) finally receiving his comeuppance and going to prison for his transgressions, and “Horse to Water” is equally mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. (“I’m not that easy, I am not your horse to water. I hold my breath, I come around.“) And even the slight downers, such as the beautiful and too-brief post-Katrina ballad “Houston” (“If the storm doesn’t kill me, the government will“) still mostly resonate with hope of change to come: “It’s a new day today, and the coffee is strong. I finally got some rest.” (By the way, as a note to the R.E.M. fans out there, I love how that fog-horn sound in “Houston” calls back to “Leave” and particularly “Undertow” from Hi-Fi, which in retrospect also seem rather Katrina-esque.)
On the Peter Buck end, Accelerate interpolates and reconfigures the jingly-jangly riffs of Life’s Rich Pageant with the (much-underappreciated) sonic grunge of Monster, and I can’t wait to hear these cuts live. Still, Accelerate‘s secret weapon is probably bassist Mike Mills, who brings back the harmonizing of Out of Time and earlier albums, and single-handedly elevates tracks like “Living Well” and “Sing for the Submarine.” Speaking of the latter, “Sing for the Submarine” is, for the time being, my high point of Accelerate, a dense, moody track that hearkens back to much of the R.E.M. canon. (“Electron Blue” and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” are explicitly name-dropped.) I haven’t come close to unpacking it yet: “It’s all a lot less frightening than you would have had it be. But that’s the good news, my darling, it is what it’s going to be.” But I’m definitely enjoying the attempt, and I love the Pink Floydish power-chords as the song builds to chorus. (If negativity is required, I could honestly take or leave the first single, “Supernatural Superserious,” — it’s a lot like “Imitation of Life” on Reveal — and I tend to skip over it. And “Until the Day is Done,” the sole mid-tempo ballad here, is less interesting than most of AoS. But neither are deal-killers.)
So, the short answer is this: if you thought R.E.M. has lost a few steps lately and have thus skipped the past few albums, then the reviews for Accelerate are true: They’re back in a big way, and you should definitely check this one out. And if you’ve stuck with ‘em all the way, then you’ll be pleased to discover that they’re on the same page as many of us this election year: To wit, after eight years (and arguably more) in the mire, it’s nigh time we progressive-minded lefties started kicking ass and taking names. “Don’t turn your talking points on me, History will set me free. The future’s ours and you don’t even read the footnote now!“
“I tried to explain how it all began, how it’s all been destroyed…and built again.” R.E.M. releases a trailer for their new album, Accelerate, featuring 30 sec of its first single, “Supernatural Superserious.” My reaction upon first listen: Hey, drums! And Mike Mills backing vocals! It looks like the new album may be, as rumored, an All That You Can’t Leave Behind-style throwback to old-school R.E.M. We’ll know for sure on April 1.
News leaks that the next R.E.M. album is titled Accelerate, and it’ll be out April 1, 2008. The tracks appear to be: Living Well Is The Best Revenge | Man Sized Wreath | Supernatural Superserious | Hollow Man | Houston | Accelerate | Mr. Richards | Until The Day Is Done | Horse To Water | Sing For The Submarine | I’m Gonna DJ. Further information should pop up on New Year’s Day, when R.E.M.’s promo site ninetynights.com goes live.
For the R.E.M. fans among us, Stereogum has compiled Drive XV, an Automatic for the People tribute album to commemorate that record‘s fifteenth anniversary. (The album’s site also contains thoughts on the songs by Mike Mills and, as a special treat, an essay, Sweetness Followed, by Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog and Pop Songs ’07.) AftP came out the fall of my senior year in high school and, as I said in my top 50 REM songs post of a few years back, it hasn’t aged with me as well as I’d hoped. (In fact, I’d probably put both Monster and Up above it these days.) Still, while “Man on the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts” may be well beyond played out (and “Nightswimming” might be getting there), the mournful record also features “Drive” (still an amazing video), “Sweetness Follows,” and “Monty Got a Raw Deal,” all minor-key dirges which resonate now as they did then. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing what the bands here came up with.
R.E.M. held their first “live rehearsal” in Dublin last night, previewing not only ten new songs but a set of mostly way-early stuff (“Second Guessing,” “Letter Never Sent,” “1,000,000,” “Little America,” “These Days,” etc.) The show intro and first new song have been Youtubed…hopefully there’ll be more to come. Update: Ah, that was quick. Just as I post this, many more quality videos surfaced, including Youtubes of new songs such as “Until the Day is Done,” “Living Well’s the Best Revenge,” and “Horse to Water.”
By way of Quiddity, Matthew Perpetua of the always enticing (and mp3-stacked) Fluxblog has dedicated himself to writing on every R.E.M. song over at Pop Songs ’07. I’ll definitely be checking it out, even if I think he’s way off on “Saturn Return”…(it made #15 on my own list awhile back, and is still up there in my esteem.)
“R.E.M.’s music is truly all-encompassing. They used every color on the palette, they invented colors on their own and they put up this huge mural of music and sound and emotion.” I neglected to post this during my West Coast vacation, but in case anyone is still interested, via Youtube: Eddie Vedder inducts R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [Part 2 | Part 3 | Gardening at Night | Begin the Begin | Man on the Moon (w/ Eddie Vedder) | I Wanna Be Your Dog (w/ Patti Smith)]
“Gentlemen don’t get caught, cages under cage.” Congrats to Athens’ finest, R.E.M., who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this March, in the first year of their eligibility. The rest of the class of 2007 includes Van Halen, Patti Smith, Patti Smith, The Ronettes, and the Hall’s first rappers, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. (By way of WebGoddess.)
“When U2′s songs weren’t on-the-nose political anthems, they were vague but heroically uplifting — filled with signifiers but signifying nothing. Whereas R.E.M. songs, drenched in Southern detail, allusive and elusive, sounded like fables or folk wisdom, U2′s majestic uplift often felt like the outtakes of a melodically gifted youth-group minister.” Ted of The Late Adopter sends along this side-by-side comparison of R.E.M. and U2 from Slate. I like them both, but, if forced to choose, definitely come down on the R.E.M. side of things. And I’d disagree with this guy’s periodization — I much prefer the most recent R.E.M. album to U2′s last few discs of self-referential “instant-classic-rock,” and thought U2 were actually at their best during their Achtung Baby/Zooropa/Pop experimentation phase. Still, worth a read.
So, my sister, her boyfriend, and I went to check out The Times They Are A-Changin’, the new Twyla Tharp-choreographed reimagining of famous Bob Dylan songs, last Thursday (with, as a star-gazing aside, some heavy-hitters in attendance: Annie Leibowitz sat directly in front of me, and Tharp herself sat directly behind. Yes, I’m a celebrity hound.) And the verdict? Well, first let me say, that — some early dabbling in community-theater notwithstanding — I’m really not much of a musical guy. I tend to find the American Idol-ish histrionics of Broadway singing really distracting, and particularly when the song in question is something like “Masters of War.” Nor have I seen Moving Out, Mamma Mia!, Ring of Fire, Almost Heaven or any of the other “Broadway Karaoke” shows that currently seem to be the rage, so I can’t really compare it to any of the others — I was really more interested to see some intriguing interpretations of Dylan than I was to partake in a group sing-a-long (which, thankfully, Times is not.) With all that said, I found Times to be…kinda hit-or-miss. While some of the visions here do their source material justice in memorable fashion, others fall flat or just seem ill-conceived. And, while the circus acrobatics on display are amazingly well-performed and at times mesmerizing, too many numbers slip into the same dark carnival-of-the-absurd pattern. The cast works hard, but surely, when you get down to it, there is more to Dylan’s oeuvre than just aggro carny folk.
To its credit, Times samples songs from across Dylan’s career, from the hoary (“The Times They-Are A Changin’,” “Blowing in the Wind“) to the obscure (“Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” “Please, Mrs. Henry“), through the lean years (“I Believe in You,” “Dignity“) and up to the recent critical revival (“Not Dark Yet,” “Summer Days.”) Set in a traveling circus run by the vicious, heavy-handed Captain Ahrab (Thom Sesma) — a character from one of Dylan’s great American fables,”Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” not included — the play basically centers around a love triangle among Ahrab, his son Coyote (Michael Arden), and the lady Cleo (Lisa Brescia), one of the circus performers. Through their story — and the larger tale of a power struggle over the circus — are refracted these thirty or so Dylan tunes, strung togther in haphazard but decently compelling fashion.
I’d like to say there’s a formula for when a song works and when it doesn’t, but it doesn’t go over like that. One of the two best numbers, “Simple Twist of Fate” (the only cut from Blood on the Tracks here), is played basically straight. Alone in spotlight, Ahrab sings wistfully in the foreground (as seen at left) while the younger couple cavorts behind him, a haunting memory. “He woke up, the room was bare. He didn’t see her anywhere. He told himself he didn’t care, pushed the window open wide. Felt an emptiness inside, to which he just could not relate.” The bleak, melancholic staging matches the song perfectly, and Ahrab/Sesma channels both its poetry and its pain.
But, in the other most successful number, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (a song I can usually take or leave), Tharp & co. have taken a tune that’s ostensibly about a drug deal and just ran with it. Now, it’s a gripping, Bergmanesque dance of death, with one of the sadder clowns (Charlie Neshyba-Hodges) holding center stage as the ensemble circles around him in black, recalling the doomed pilgrims of The Seventh Seal. Obviously, Tharp isn’t the first to read “Tambourine Man” as a disquisition on mortality. (“I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade…into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.“) Nevertheless, the staging both feels innovative and cuts close to the bone of the song in surprising fashion.
There are other good moments scattered throughout the show, although few that hold their power over the course of an entire track: For example, a contortionist writhes horribly on a hospital bed during the “Dr. Filth” passage of “Desolation Row,” flashlights whirl and twirl (held by people brandishing them vaguely like tusken raiders) during “Knocking on Heaven’s Door“, the cast memorably get their drink on for “Please, Mrs. Henry,” and one clown reenacts Dylan’s “Subterranean” signage during the latter half of “Like a Rolling Stone.”
But, when a song’s off, it’s pretty off. The most obvious offenders are “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and arguably “Lay, Lady, Lay,” all of which are performed in a deadly earnest Broadway patter that just stop the show dead. (This is particularly unfortunate in the case of the first one, since that’s how the show begins.) But, there are other problems. The bizarre welcome-to-the-carnival-of-beasties routine works well for “Desolation Row” (since, after all, “The circus is in town“) and maybe even for other rousing numbers such as “Like a Rolling Stone.” But, it’s overdone — in “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Everything is Broken,” “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” — to the point that the musical numbers become indistinguishable. (“Masters of War” also falls somewhat into this pattern — I liked it better than most, but was reminded more of ABT’s splendid recent revival of “The Green Table,” which captured the same sentiment better.)
And, sometimes, in my humble opinion, the attempted interpretation falls flat on its face. I thought turning “Not Dark Yet,” Dylan’s gloomy but resigned rumination on death around the corner, into a rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light completely misses the point of the song, which is that he’s given up and given in to the coming darkness. (“I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies. I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes.“)
Most egregious in this regard is what’s been done to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Perhaps because it remains such a personal song — a song about two people rather than a generation — I’d say it’s aged much better than almost all of the other hugely popular early-Dylan standards (“Blowing in the Wind,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”) In fact, I might go so far as to say that “Don’t Think Twice” may just be the quintessential Dylan break-up song in a career full of them (although now that I write that…Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks…ok, never mind. That’s too bold a statement.) At any rate, here, all the complexity of competing emotions that drives the track — “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind, you could have done better but I don’t mind, you just kinda wasted my precious time” — is wasted, as it’s become, inexplicably, a number sung by a woman to her overly eager dog. (Although I will concede that the canine in question — I believe it was Jason McDole — was convincingly and creepily Berkeley-like.)
In sum, A Times They Are A-Changin’ is at times engaging, and may be worth catching if you have a hankering for the carnivalesque, if you’re a Dylan completist, or if you have a higher tolerance for showtune renditions than I do. But, as an exploration of Dylanalia, I found the show too narrowly circumscribed within its three-ring circus, and ultimately unsatisfying. (Then again, in the play’s defense, I didn’t think much of Masked and Anonymous either, so perhaps I’m just ornery about such things.)
Original drummer Bill Berry returned to R.E.M. for a few short sets this past week to honor their new place in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (and longtime blogger Eric of Kestrel’s Nest even caught a show at the 40 Watt.) But will he stick around?
Bucks Mills Stipe Berry? Original drummer Bill Berry recently returned to R.E.M. for a seven-song wedding set that included “Sitting Still,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” “Wolves, Lower,” “Begin the Begin,” “The One I Love,” “Permanent Vacation” and “Radio Free Europe.” Now, that’s a right nice wedding gift and no mistake.
By way of Lots of Co. and Webgoddess, Flagpole Magazine picks the 25 Best-Ever R.E.M. Songs. I actually think their list is really good — and I concur with several of their top pics (including #1), but for the sake of it, here’s my own Top 50, at least for the moment. As per Max, the Flagpole ranking is in parentheses. (I did try originally to keep it down to 25, but found I was leaving too many excellent tunes by the wayside. And then the numbering got screwed up and…well, in short, fifty will have to do ya.)
50. “Talk About the Passion“: “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” Anticipating Mel Gibson’s filmic use of Aramaic by a good two decades, Michael Stipe chose to conduct his own disquisition about the Passion in French. Combien de temps? I dunno…ask Jefferson.
49. “Let Me In“: “I’ve got tar on my feet and I can’t see. All the birds look down and laugh at me, clumsy, crawling out of my skin.” A troubled tribute to the late Kurt Cobain, with tortuous waves of feedback threatening to overwhelm Stipe’s plaintive delivery at every turn.
48. “The Outsiders“: “So am I with you or am I against? I don’t think it’s that easy — We’re lost in regret.” One of R.E.M.’s more accomplished experiments on Around the Sun, and Q-Tip’s cameo at the end works much better than KRS-1′s similar appearance on “Radio Song.”
47. “King of Birds“: “Standing on the shoulders of giants leaves me cold, leaves me cold.” I remember “King of Birds” being a favorite of mine for a very long time. But it’s slipped in recent years, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on…perhaps it’s the droning D chord. At any rate, it’s a quality tune regardless.
46. “Nightswimming” (2): “You, I thought I knew you. You I cannot judge.” Like “King of Birds,” “Nightswimming” is an undeniably bewitching song…but for some reason it hasn’t aged well with me. It’s much better than, say, “Everybody Hurts” on the same album, and nowhere near as schmaltzy as “Strange Currencies” or “At My Most Beautiful,” but still — right now it’s just off my radar.
45. “Gardening at Night” (19): “I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change though all the feelings that broke through that door just didn’t seem to be too real.” Early and elegant, “Gardening at Night” still holds up almost 25 years after the fact…If only college rock was still this captivating.
44. “First We Take Manhattan” (20): “Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win. You know the way to stop me, but you don’t have the discipline.” Besides being a band for the ages, R.E.M. also has impeccable taste in covers, as illustrated by their crunchy take on Leonard Cohen’s dark, swelling “First We Take Manhattan.” (Other excellent covers that could have gone here are U2′s “One,” Lulu’s “To Sir With Love,” Mary Black’s “My Youngest Son Came Home Today,” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” but I disqualified them ’cause they’re usually Stipe-centric and bereft of the entire quartet.)
43. “You are the Everything” (16): “Here’s a scene: You’re in the back seat, laying down. The windows wrap around to the sound of the travel and the engine.” It loses some points for the “teeth in your mouth” bit, but still, one of R.E.M.’s better forays into naked sentimentalism. If you’re like me and between 25 and 37, this was classic mixtape-for-the-girlfriend fare.
42. “Sweetness Follows” (5): “It’s these little things, they can pull you under. Live your life filled with joy and thunder. Yeah, yeah we were all together, lost in our little lives.” According to Michael Stipe’s stage banter, this is apparently Peter Buck’s favorite song, and it is quite a beauty. Frankly, I find Automatic for the People a hard album to listen to all that much, but this is a track that remains powerful with every playing.
41. “King of the Road“: “Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let, fifty cents.” The boys from Athens butcher Roger Miller’s classic at the end of a very long bender, and yet somehow it’s in perfect keeping with the tune’s zeitgeist. One of the better examples of how fun R.E.M. can be when they just get silly (See also their covers of Suzanne Vegas’ “Tom’s Diner” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, as well as “Bandwagon” on Dead Letter Office.)
40. “Pilgrimage“: “Speakin’ in tongues, it’s worth a broken lip.” “Laughing” or “Moral Kiosk” could’ve gone here too — there are no real bad cuts on Murmurs. But there’s something about “Pilgrimage,” particularly coming as it does right after “Radio Free Europe,” that shows that R.E.M. was a band with more than one setting, and a long future ahead of them.
39. “I Took Your Name“: “I sequenced your arrival, I sealed your fate. I pushed the button and erased your master tape.” Peter Buck fools around with feedback while Stipe sings of the perils of popularity. Breezy but memorable.
38. “Pretty Persuasion“: “Reasoning cannot shuffle in this heat, it’s all wrong.” A prototypical early R.E.M. song, but a good one nonetheless.
37. “High-Speed Train“: “I’m long in the eye. I cry when I try. I just want to fly, just you and I, together” In contrast to the churning pistons of “Driver 8″, this “High Speed Train” moves along to a throbbing sonic hum. And it’s inexorably leading our moon-eyed hero in what’s probably the wrong direction, further and further away from a lover that doesn’t quite seem to share his enthusiasm. Alas, he can travel anywhere in the world, except exactly where he wants to go.
36. “Wolves, Lower“: “Suspicion yourself, suspicion yourself, suspicion us all. Wilder lower wolves. Here’s a house to put wolves out the door.” Wow, these guys have talent. If I were I.R.S., I’d sign these fools immediately.
35. “Disturbance at the Heron House“: “The gathering of grunts and greens, cogs and grunts and hirelings, a meeting of a mean idea to hold.” A perfectly executed mid-era R.E.M. jingly-jangle.
34. “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream“: “I’ll settle for a cup of coffee, but you know what I really need.” One of the more fetching tunes from the lust-tinged Monster. As this song suggests, sometimes it’s best just to ignore that monster lurking in the corner…y’know, the one clearly and unabashedly trying to get your attention.
33. “We Walk” (9): “Take oasis, Marat’s bathing.” The Feedback entry on this one was dead on — This nonsense rhyme off of Murmur should be a throwaway, but somehow it’s exceedingly catchy. Up the stairs, to the landing…
32. “She Just Wants to Be“: “It’s not that she wasn’t rewarded with pomegranate afternoons of Mingus, Chet Baker and chess.” One of the more lyrical outings from Reveal that (particularly when paired with Up‘s “Walk Unafraid“) really comes into its own live.
31. “Voice of Harold“: “We are associated with United Music World Recording Studios, Inc., West Columbia, SC. The finest sound available anywhere.” Adding credence to the post-modern applicability of found texts, R.E.M. re-record their earlier song “7 Chinese Brothers” with Stipe reading the liner notes of some random gospel album. Hey, for whatever reason, it works.
30. “Turn You Inside Out“: “Divide your cultured pearls in haste, I’m looking for to lay to waste.” Stipe used to scream this one through a bullhorn during the Green tour, and “Turn You Inside Out” calls for exactly that type of frenetic energy. It’s a ballad of self-empowerment for the slightly deranged.
29. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?“: “I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines. Richard said, ‘Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.’” 1994 spawned a Monster, and this ode to Dan Rather’s stalker kicked it off with both our first look at a bald, flailing, hyperactive Stipe and our first listen to a new grungy crunch for the band post-Automatic. I dig this frequency, Kenneth.
28. “Exhuming McCarthy“: “You’re beautiful more beautiful than me. You’re honorable more honorable than me — Loyal to the Bank of America.” The band serves up a dose of Document-era politics with tongue firmly in cheek and a groove you can’t help shimmying to (that is, assuming you have no sense of decency, sir.)
27. “Underneath the Bunker” “I have water, I have rum, wait for dawn and dawn shall come, underneath the bunkers in the row.” 90 seconds of goofy bliss, and just the type of mental sorbet that an album as rich as Life’s Rich Pageant required around the halfway mark.
26. “Half a World Away” “This storm it came up strong. It shook the trees and blew away our fear, I couldn’t even hear.” Pretty straightforward, sure, but “Half a World Away” is still an exquisite ode to faraway love, and one of the better signposts in Michael Stipe’s evolution from cryptic mumbling to more heartfelt fare.
25. “Leave“: “Suffer the dreams of a world gone mad, I like it like that and I know it. I know it well, ugly and sweet, A temperament that said believe in this dream.” Propelled by a frantic air raid signal in the background (and, as the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack showed, the song doesn’t work very well without it), “Leave” best captured the synergy of live performance energy and studio production values that the band seemed to be going for with New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
24. “Lotus“: “Opposing thumb, dorsal fin, that monkey died for my grin. Bring my happy back again.” The one unabashed rocker on Up, the band’s first album without Bill Berry, “Lotus” has the same type of infectious and demented thrill as earlier standouts “I Took Your Name” and “So Fast, So Numb.” Good stuff, that.
23. “Tongue“: “Call my name, here I come. Your last ditch lay, will I never learn?” One of R.E.M.’s filthier ditties, crooned in gender-bending falsetto, “Tongue” is also one of the high points on the very agreeable Monster.
22. “Drive“: “Smack, crack, bushwhacked. Tie another one to the racks, baby.” After blowing up to international regard with Out of Time and “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M. returned to the fold with this haunting rock dirge (and equally haunting video) to open the surprisingly low-key Automatic for the People. It showed everyone that, despite all the acclaim, the boys from Athens still marched to their own drummer (and, at least for a few albums, he wasn’t going anywhere.)
21. “I’ve Been High” (24): “What I want, what I really want is just to live my life on high. And I know, I know you want the same — I can see it in your eyes.” One of the most beautiful songs in the band’s recent oeuvre, and proof positive that the folks out there who feel R.E.M. has lost a step in the post-Berry era should give the newer albums at least one more whirl.
20. “Harborcoat“: “They crowded up to Lenin with their noses worn off. A handshake is worthy if it’s all that you’ve got.” Like “Pretty Persuasion,” one of the other standout cuts on Reckoning, “Harborcoat” is fast-paced poetry in the early R.E.M. style.
19. “World Leader Pretend” (13): “I proclaim that claims are left unstated, I demand a rematch, I decree a stalemate, I divine my deeper motives.” Following the issue-oriented politics of Document, “World Leader Pretend” proved Stipe also had his eye on the big picture. A song full of nuance, compromise, and beauty.
18. “Diminished“: “I watched you fall. I think I pushed.” Put aside OJ, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson, and Martha Stewart for a sec…court is now in session for the celebrity trial of Stipe & co., and it’s a doozy. The “Sing Along” hook in the middle is criminally catchy.
17. “Driver 8” (8): “I saw a treehouse on the outskirts of the farm. The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged.” Peter Buck has derided this song as exactly the type of jingly-jangly minor-key rock he could write on autopilot. Perhaps so, but “Driver 8″ is still a very well-done jingly-jangly minor-key rock song, with one of the more transcendent bridges (“Way to shield the hated heat, way to put myself to sleep”) in the early R.E.M. canon.
16. “Boy in the Well“: “It’s that sinking feeling. you know what it’s bringing on (You might as well say it) I see it, I feel it. This town is going wrong.” Like a number of songs on Around in the Sun, “Boy in the Well” tells a sordid tale of self-inflicted wounds and love gone sour. I almost put the more sonically adventurous “High Speed Train” here, but in the end “Boy in the Well” seems the most iconic and well-realized foray on this very solid album.
15. “Saturn Return“: “Harder to look yourself square in the eye. Easy to poke yourself, easy as pie. Easy to take off, harder to fly. Harder to wake Galileo.” This piano and synth-laden cut from Reveal never got much hype, but I can’t get enough of it. In some ways, “Saturn Return” is a darker, twisted version of “You are the Everything,” for those moments in a long road trip when peace yields to unease, shadows darken into doubts, and your thoughts become your own worst enemy. (Thematically, it also seems very similar to “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.”)
14. “Welcome to the Occupation“: “Hang your collar up inside, hang your freedom higher. Listen to the buyer still, listen to the Congress.” While “Exhuming McCarthy” has the benefit of a great sense of humor, “Welcome to the Occupation” — about How the Southern Hemisphere Was Won (And What It Got Us) — is arguably R.E.M.’s most powerful tone poem on Document. Ten years ago, I’d probably have put “King of Birds” in this spot, but, as I said earlier, I don’t listen to that one so much anymore.
13. “How the West Was Won (And Where It Got Us)“: “I made a mistake, chalked it up to design. I cracked through time, space, Godless and dry. I point my nose to the northern star, watch the decline from a hazy distance.” For their first New Adventure in Hi-Fi, R.E.M. tried on a trip-hop groove, anchored by Mike Mill’s Monkish piano hook, to great effect. A spiritual descendant of “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” that stands miles above some of the other, goofier tracks on this spotty record.
12. “Monty Got a Raw Deal“: “I saw you strung up in a tree. A woman knelt there said to me, said, ‘Hold your tongue.’” When I first heard Automatic back in high school, I adored “Nightswimming” and “Find the River“…but these days, I have trouble listening to them (and skip right through “Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon.”) Nowadays, it’s this paean to Montgomery Clift which seems like the hidden gem on the album.
11. “Bang and Blame“: “You’ve got a little worry, I know it all too well. I’ve got your number, but so does every kiss-and-tell who dares to cross your threshold.” On an album chock-full of great songs about sex (notably “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” and “Tongue,”) this one really delivers the goods. (Word is Stipe was trying to emulate Kurt Cobain’s lyrical sensibility with this track, and if so, it worked.) A calm moment amid the distortion that characterizes the second half of the underappreciated Monster, “Bang and Blame” is a memorable ode to being in lust if not in like, and one of R.E.M.’s sultriest singles.
10. “Orange Crush“: “We are agents of the free. I’ve had my fun and now its time to serve your conscience overseas.” Between the not-very-oblique Agent Orange reference and the boot camp bridge, this is Platoon R.E.M. style, as well as one of the band’s catchier rockers. Ten-hut!
9. “Swan Swan H” (3): “A pistol hot cup of rhyme, the whiskey is water, the water is wine.” Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe get a little closer to home with this venture into Civil War territory, one that manages to capture both the terrible loss (“Tell that to the Captain’s mother”) and joy of jubilee (“Hurrah we are all free now”) of that long, low time ago.
8. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (25): “Uh oh, overflow, population, common group, but it’ll do. Save yourself, serve yourself!” A trademark lesson in how not to give a goddamn when the wheels come off, “ITEOTWAWKI(AIFF)” also happens to be more fun than you can shake a stick at. The band have only opened a show with this ditty once — their first post-election gig in 2004 — and we all knew exactly how they felt.
7. “So. Central Rain” (4): “Did you never call? I waited for your call. These rivers of suggestion are driving me away.” Flagpole hit this one on the head — Along with “Driver 8,” this song encapsulates R.E.M.’s trademark early sound, redolent of spanish moss and stormy days.
6. “Losing My Religion” (10): “Consider this the hint of the century, Consider this the slip that brought me to my knees.” Somehow, amazingly, this tune — easily the best mandolin-driven pop song of the late twentieth century — never got played out. Bonus points for Stipe teaching us all the appropriate sign language to signal “Help, I’m grotesquely impaled on the horns of an interminable crush” in the Tarsem video.
5. “Begin the Begin” (14): “Answer me a question I can’t itemize, I can’t think clear, you look to me for reason, it’s not there, I can’t even rhyme.” As Flagpole noted, “Begin” is one of those quintessential R.E.M. rockers. Really, really hard not to jump up and down to.
4. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (17): “Read the scene where gravity is pulling me around…” Like “Low Desert,” “How the West is Won,” and “Saturn Return,” “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” features one of R.E.M.’s most malevolent and formidable soundscapes. As Stipe wrestles with newfound powers and forces beyond his control, Buck, Berry and Mills show they plan to deconstruct the trademark R.E.M. jingly-jangly sound of their first few albums into something much more fractured and dissonant for Reconstruction of the Fables (well, at least until “Driver 8.”)
3. “Perfect Circle” (18): “Pull your dress on and stay real close. Who might leave you where I left off?” The quietest moment on Murmur is also one of the best. Big ups also to the 1991 Unplugged version, with Mike Mills providing a falsetto coo that offsets the “standing too soons” very nicely.
2. “Fall on Me” (6): “There’s the progress, we have found a way to talk around the problem.”” One of Stipe’s most plaintive and mercurial laments, and probably the band’s best harmonizing, right down to Bill Berry’s soft-spoken “It’s Gonna Fall” in the background. If you don’t like this song, you probably don’t like R.E.M.
1. “Country Feedback” (1): “This flower is scorched, this film is on, on a maddening loop…” Wracked with spite, doubled over with thwarted love, and shimmering with regret, “Country Feedback” is R.E.M.’s magnum opus and a heartbreakingly beautiful ballad. (It’s also the song I probably enjoy playing on the guitar more than any other, even if I can’t ever do it justice. There are also plenty of great live versions floating around, including one with Neil Young providing the feedback and another unplugged version that segues nicely into Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”) In short, “Country Feedback” is raw pain distilled, moonshine-style. Crazy what you could’ve had, indeed.
And, just to be a completist (and to take the air out of this exceedingly long and gushing entry a bit), I’ll go ahead and throw in my 5 worst R.E.M. songs (and, yes, “Shiny Happy People” gets a pass…however bad that ill-advised ditty turned out to be, I can think of worse.):
So, in their first stop since Dubya Day, REM played the Garden last night. A good show, and they played my favorites from the new album (“Boy in the Well,” “High-Speed Train,” “The Outsiders”) But there was obviously a very strange and subdued vibe to the proceedings. Angela McCluskey, the opening act, struck an appropriately funereal tone with a swelling rendition of The The’s “Love is Stronger than Death.” And Stipe, for his part, seemed as staggered as most of the crowd, and barely spoke at all — (not that it much mattered…85% of the people there seemed to be waiting for “Losing My Religion” the whole time anyway.) All in all, I enjoyed last year’s stop more, but obviously those were happier times for both the band and the nation. Setlist below:
|1. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine.)||[Just in case you haven't been keeping up with current events...]|
|2. Begin the Begin|
|3. So Fast, So Numb|
|5. Boy in the Well||“This song takes place in Tennessee.”|
|6. Welcome to the Occupation|
|8. Get Up!|
|9. High-Speed Train|
|10. Cuyahoga||“This song takes place in Ohio.” [BOO.]|
|11. Sweetness Follows|
|12. The One I Love|
|13. I Wanted to Be Wrong||“This is our State of the Union.”|
|14. Imitation of Life||“This was a #1 single in Japan.”|
|15. Final Straw|
|16. Losing My Religion||“I don’t know what to say tonight, so I’ve tried to say as little as I could and let the songs speak for themselves. There’s something about a well-constructed pop song…”|
|17. Walk Unafraid|
|18. Life and How to Live It|
|E1. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?|
|E3. Leaving New York||“This song takes place in NYC.”|
|E4. Electrolite||“This song takes place in LA.”|
|E5. Permanent Vacation (w/ Steve Wynn)||“We’re REM, and this is what we do.”|
|E6. I’m Gonna DJ|
|E7. Man on the Moon||“This song belongs to you.”|
“This administration is amazingly inept and incompetent. John Ashcroft in charge of justice? The man thinks dancing is a sin.” Following in the footsteps of the Boss and similar remarks in Rolling Stone, Mike Mills of R.E.M. again makes the case against Dubya in the Orlando Sentinel.
“The 50-50 split is not between Democrats and Republicans, but those who vote and those who don’t. That’s right: nearly 50% of eligible voters chose not to vote in 2000. The underlying challenge of our democracy is to change this non-participation and to ensure that the core values of citizenship and active participation in the electoral process overshadow the domination of big money and corporate power.” Sent to me by Chris at Do You Feel Loved, the inimitable Bill Bradley emerges from hiding to admire the Vote for Change tour in USA Today.
“So am I with you or am I against? I don’t think it’s that easy, we’re lost in regret.” This line (from “The Outsiders,” featuring A Tribe Called Quest‘s Q-Tip) emerges as the central theme in Around the Sun — R.E.M.’s 13th album — which was released today. And, while it may take a few more listens than usual to differentiate among the many glum mid-tempo tracks on this album, I’d say Around the Sun is easily R.E.M.’s most cohesive album since Monster. Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and new drummer Bill Rieflin have finally emerged with a confident sound that incorporates the musical experimentation of Up and Reveal with the classic jingly-jangly R.E.M. we all remember from the Bill Berry era. In fact, I think Around the Sun compares favorably to the Automatic days, when the Athens boys enjoyed their widest popularity stateside with a similarly disconsolate set of songs.
Early word on Around the Sun was that we were in for a very political album, one swept up in and honed on progressive outrage over Dubya excess. And, while such sentiments appear explicitly on “Final Straw” (released in 2002 during the build-up to the war in Iraq) and “I Wanted to Be Wrong” (“We can’t approach the Allies because they seem a little peeved.“), Michael Stipe’s political sermonizing is never as overt as, on say, “Exhuming McCarthy,” “Cuyahoga,” or “Welcome to the Occupation” in the Life’s Rich Pageant/Document era.
Instead, for R.E.M. this time around, the political is personal. In fact, the band doesn’t seem angry so much as disheartened. From the opening track (and first single) “Leaving New York” (“It’s easier to leave than to be left behind“) a large majority of songs on Around the Sun dwell not on political causes but on the “Aftermath” (also the name of the second single) of shattered relationships…the turmoil, bitterness, conflict, and — eventually — grudging acceptance that accompanies a love run its course. On the cascading “Make it All Ok“: “So you worked out your excuses, turned away and shut the door. The world’s too vast for us now, and you wanted to explore.” On “High-Speed Train” (whose crunchy metallic drone makes the minor-key railroad rock of Driver 8 seem like a pleasure ride): “You’ve mirrored my best disguise and turned it back on me.” On “The Worst Joke Ever“: “Some things don’t hold up over the course of a lifetime.” On “The Ascent of Man“: “I’m so in love I won’t attract, and with my hands tied I won’t crack, ’cause in my mind I called you back.” This despondent cloud over the album reaches its apex — or nadir, actually — in the album’s relentlessly downbeat stand-out track, “Boy in the Well“: “It’s that sinking feeling, you know what it’s bringing on…I see it, I feel it, this town is going wrong.” Forget “Fall on Me“: On Around the Sun, the sky has already fallen, and it’s all about picking up the pieces.
To be sure, all this oppressive dwelling on lost loves can be tough to take, and I can see how some critics might feel like R.E.M. have hit a thematic rut here. Even “Wanderlust,” the only relatively peppy track on the disc, doesn’t avoid the album’s general gloom: “Looks like the world revolves around me. Looks like it’s falling down.” Simply put, it’s hard not to come out of a listen to Around the Sun feeling somewhat dejected. But the payoff is there, in a way, in the last track (strangely enough for R.E.M., also named “Around the Sun“): “Hold on world ’cause you don’t know what’s coming. Hold on world ’cause I’m not jumping off. Hold onto this boy a little longer, take another trip around the sun.” Soon thereafter, in the final moments, “Around the Sun” changes keys, a ray of light pierces the clouds, and the album floats away in a sort-of-Beach-Boys shimmer (done much more successfully than any of the attempts to do this on Reveal): “Let my dreams set me free. Believe. Believe. Now now now now now now…“
As with love, Around the Sun seems to argue by the end, so with America. R.E.M. could easily have hammered the anti-Dubya agenda much harder on this album, and judging from early reports on the Vote for Change tour, it sounds like they’ll be doing so extensively at their live shows. But, in a way, Around the Sun sets its goal at something broader. Don’t let Dubya’s travesty of an administration dishonor your admiration for the American ideal. And don’t let the pains, compromises, and betrayals of this world steal from you your heart. “Do I even dare to speak? To dream? Believe?,” asks “Around the Sun.” The answer is Yes, “Give me a voice so strong I can question what I have seen.” Hold on to the dream. Believe.
“Unlike a lot of political issues, this is literally life or death. Kerry understands how the world works, in a way that Bush does not. When Bush ran the first time, I realized something: I want my president to be smarter than I am. I don’t ask much, but I want him to be smarter than me.” Mike Mills of R.E.M. and several other musicians make the case for Kerry to Rolling Stone.
In anticipation of Around the Sun (out October 4), R.E.M. have released a free download of new song snippets on iTunes (also available here and here), which includes “Leaving New York,” Around the Sun,” “Wanderlust,” “Electron Blue,” and “I Want To Be Wrong.” That goofy voicemail intro aside, I think this is strong stuff by our boys in Athens, easily better than Reveal and definitely more confident-sounding than the intermittent greatness of Up. “Electron Blue” — R.E.M.’s best run at an synth-driven tune yet — just might be my new favorite song-of-the-moment. And with the official word that the Tribe’s Q-Tip is also on one of the tracks (“The Outsiders”), this could be the choicest R.E.M. album in a decade or more.
R.E.M. talk Around the Sun and, in discussing their dwindling popularity Stateside, pay credit to Bob Dylan. Notes Peter Buck, “In 1975, people thought he was going to be president. Now he plays 3,000 seat theatres. His last two records are the best things he’s done in years. So I won’t calculate who our audience is. I’ll take whoever I can get at whatever level I can get them.’”
“It’s easier to leave than to be left behind…” The boys in Athens (REM, not Michael Phelps) release “Leaving New York”, the first single from Around the Sun, on BBC Radio. (Mirror/Mirror 2.) All in all, I’d say it’s growing on me. One part “Parakeet,” one part “Wrong Child,” maybe a dash of “E-Bow the Letter,” it’s definitely REM jingly-jangly without being as self-consciously imitative as “Imitation of Life,” the first single on the last album. And it’s got a very catchy chorus, particularly when Stipe also comes with the backing vocals (must’ve been Mike Mills’ off day.) At any rate, the rest of the album is listed here. Update: Bowing to the inevitable, the official site is now streaming the full song, if all the previous links go down.
From REM.HQ: “The band officially confirmed today that the new record will be titled Around the Sun…Around the Sun will be released on Warner Bros. Records October 4th (internationally) and October 5th in the United States. The first single will be ‘Leaving New York.’” And, in other R.E.M. news, the band will be part of MoveOn’s Vote For Change Tour, with Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Jurassic 5, and many others.
R.E.M releases some details about their forthcoming album out in October, which features new drummer Bill Rieflin (formerly of Ministry.) According to Stipe in RS, “‘there’s some stuff on here that’s pretty hard-core, and fairly political.’ The political tracks include a fleshed-out version of the Internet-only release ‘Final Straw,’ which was written prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and ‘I’m Gonna DJ,’ about the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle…[But] R.E.M. dabble in more than just politics, as Stipe characterizes ‘Leaving New York’ as a love song and ‘Wanderlust’ as a pop song.” Sounds grand.
With the greatest hits tour coming to a close, the Times checks in with REM again. They must be getting sick of the “Over the Hill?” angle of all these stories by now.
Chris Suellentrop ponders R.E.M. at the crossroads. From the concert the other night, it’s plainly evident that many people do see R.E.M. as a nostalgia act these days [A good two-thirds of the Garden crowd got up twice - for Losing My Religion and ITEOTWAWKI (AIFF).] Still, I thought Up — their album before last — was brilliant stuff (with a lousy single, “Daysleeper.”) I’d much rather hear Stipe, Buck, Mills continue to play with their sound than to churn out instant-classic-REM stuff like “Imitation of Life” and “Bad Day.” More Bowie, less Eagles.
So R.E.M. came to town Saturday night and played probably the best show I’ve seen by Athens’ finest. (This is my fourth over the past decade.) First the setlist:
1. Finest Worksong
2. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
3. Driver 8
6. Fall On Me
8. Bad Day
9. The One I Love
10. World Leader Pretend
11. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
12. The Great Beyond
13. Country Feedback
14. Losing My Religion
15. Find The River
16. She Just Wants To Be
17. Walk Unafraid
18. Man On The Moon
19. Life And How To Live It
So all in all, a truly excellent show. There were other R.E.M. songs they’re playing on this tour that I’d have loved to hear (Exhuming McCarthy, Feeling Gravity’s Pull), but they played my two favorites (and my top two requests) — Fall on Me and Country Feedback — so I left happy. I was particularly impressed with Walk Unafraid and She Just Wants to Be, two songs off Up and Reveal respectively that really came into their own tonight, when Peter Buck chose them to show off his considerable guitar mojo. And the band wisely skipped some of their more saccharine moments — Everybody Hurts or Strange Currencies, for example — to showcase old hits (Rockville, Gardening) and political tone poems (Final Straw and World Leader Pretend, a special treat.) In sum, Stipe, Buck and Mills still got it, and I’m very much looking forward to their next swing through the area.
R.E.M. ready their new song “Bad Day” (off In Time, the Greatest Hits for the Warner years, due out next month) for release by creating MorningTeam.Com. I guess now we know what Buck and Mills would’ve been doing if the Athens Fab Four had never taken off.
Alas, I’m not going to be around (and my limited discretionary funds for concert-going was already spent on R.E.M. tickets), but if you live in NYC and you’re looking to wash the taste of Masked and Anonymous out of your mouth, Dylan’s playing the Hammerstein Ballroom August 12-14. Should be grand.
Via Do You Feel Loved?, R.E.M. is taking online song requests for their 2003 tour, which kicked off last night in Utrecht. Good to see they’re playing “Welcome to the Occupation”…I’m all for Document-era protest songs over saccharine ditties like “Imitation of Life” and “Electrolite,” particularly in these trying times. Update: Now this is more like it. “Exhuming McCarthy,” “Cuyahoga,” and “Fall on Me” all were part of the second show, as well as good ole “Country Feedback,” still my favorite song to play on the guitar (2/14). Update 2: These setlists are off the hook – the third show of the tour (in London) saw “Life and How to Live It,” “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” and “Pilgrimage.” And the NYC show (10/4) has moved from Liberty Park to the Garden, so now I’m definitely going. W00t.
The LA Times checks in with REM as they gear up for a fall tour, pay their respects to Dylan, and talk about what songs they’ll never play again. “Shiny Happy People” is no surprise, but I always kinda liked “Pop Song 89.”