Spun: R.E.M.

By Peter Hemminger

Star-crossed lovers are finally reunited. Terminal cancer patients find their miracle cure. The rag-tag band of misfits pull together and win the big game. Then the camera pulls back, screen goes black, and a song comes in on the rolling credits. It’s slow, it’s pretty and the lyrics are kind of sad, but sung with an optimism. You can tell everything is going to turn out right. It’s because of the song at the end of a romantic comedy or the true dramatic tale of one woman’s struggle against, oh let’s say, leprosy.

That song, that maudlin, so-pleasant-it’s-almost-unpleasant song, is Around The Sun. No, not just the title track, although that’d be true. It’s every single song on the album. Every song, including Q-Tip’s cameo on “The Outsiders”, would sit comfortably as exit music for a film.

R.E.M., once the defining college rock band (college rock to the ’80s was what alt-rock was to the ’90s and indie is today, a catch-all term for bands actually putting creativity and intelligence into their music) has somehow become boring; they’re musical craftsmen instead of artisans. There’s no energy and little of the distinctive sound of jangly guitars and inventive melodies the band once possessed. Now it’s just too many studio tricks and Michael Stipe doing his best not to sound bored while singing flat, hookless melodies.

Even at their worst, R.E.M. are still listenable. But unless your life is filled with heartwarming triumphs over adversity, odds are Around The Sun won’t get a lot of play.

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