This post is late, I know… but try listening to Pump up the Jam the Album thirteen times without a loss of spirits and then, teach me how you did it.
I don’t know why I haven’t heard a lot of R.E.M… I mean, I’ve heard only three songs: It’s the End of the World, which I really enjoy, Bad Day, I like to call it It’s The End of the World v2 but I also like it, and Losing My Religion, that I also enjoy a lot… then… why haven’t I heard more of them? I have many reasons for that, I think…
First of all… the music video for losing my religion is bad… emo bad… And when I saw the music video for a song I was hooked on for a long, long time… I was disappointed. And they are pretentious… I think. They are always involved in causes… I think. I really don’t like that… it’s that type of band that people involved in political causes always cling on too, because they are also involved, and I really am not for that idea: it’s like what happened to U2 in the last ten years. They were always involved in shit, but they had solid music… now, they don’t have solid music, so their fanbase is constituted of people that like baby critters and “Bono is so committed to baby critters” and you know the gist.
So, not only this is a review of R.E.M, this is me getting to know something that I should’ve a long time ago. After three albums… heck, after a lot of albums that I “didn’t” need to listen to, finally, an album that was in my list of “to hear” music… and you know what? That’s awesome and was my intention all along: conceal hobby and… “work”. With this one, there will be only… like three hundred albums still to give a chance… The band started out in 1980 and is one of the few bands of the eighties that stayed with the original formation throughout the 31 years it was active (they disbanded in 2011): Michael Stipe on the vocals, Peter Buck on the guitars, Mike Mills on the bass and Bill Berry on the drums, of which the last one is only sporadic since 1997 after collapsing onstage… whoa, that’s a devoted man if I’ve ever saw one.
The cover made me at first glance happy and then sad. It’s the band’s name and the album’s name on a yellow thing that reminds me of traffic, and it made me think “cool, maybe all REM albums have that yellow logo and only change the background” and well, simple put… it’s not like that, so I was kind of disappointed. The background is fuzzy (or plain abstract) and looks like the ocean or a road, I’m really confused by that. The album runs for 44:08 with the longest song being “Low” with 4:55 and the shortest song being “Near Wild Heavens” with its 3:17. Neat-o.
The album got a Grammy… I don’t remember if any other of the albums I’ve reviewed ever got a Grammy… only St. Elsewhere… and that album sucked. It also nabbed a bunch of Platinums, especially on Canada and the U.K. So, let’s keep this “reviewaday marathon”: this is Out of Time by R.E.M.
1st track: “Radio Song” – Starting the song quirkily to say the least, the melody is cool, but… the vocal… oh my god… it’s really bad. I don’t find the singing of the R.E.M songs disturbing because it feels the bill, this time around there is clever back vocals that show what the song could be. The instrumentation is awesome and surprises, with various mood throughout it all, with a strings section in it to boot and an awesome break part. The lyrics are good and remind me of a song that I heard in Osu! Tatakae Ouendan. Overall, a good start, at least. Even the “rapping” is not jarringly bad, as most raps are.
2nd track: “Losing my Religion” – The album strives quickly and “whiplashdly” to a ballad, and boy, for a kid of the nineties like me, this song played a big part. I recall several sad shows that in some episode played this tune, and even on the Simpsons it was referred (when Simpsons was watchable). I never liked the verse “Losing my Religion”, because it states more of an “I’m losing my beliefs” feel than properly Religion, but the choice of the words is a strong one. This time around, the singing is on its play field and the whole background is filled with nuances that I really enjoy. The lyrics are great, with some clever use of antithesis. The beat is cool, it has a bring you up when down feel to it, it’s great to sing along, it’s an awesome song by a band that, here is the kicker, is playing in their comfort zone. If you never heard this song, go listen to it. Okay, I’ll add a link to the music video, but don’t look at it: I hate it, maybe you’ll too.
3rd track: “Low” – They did a Doors song! No covers: they made the Doors formula and recorded it. No wonder it’s the longest song on the album: it’s the Doors after all, with their 9 minute average song. The guitar is Doors good, but the Doors formula needs Morrison’s singing. I don’t have anything else to tell about the song: it’s Doors. The chorus is really bothersome, because the background covers the singing and there is too much happening at the same time. The lyrics are abstract and are not horrible, but… it is a Doors song, dead serious.
4th track: “Near Wild Heaven” – A more “The Cure” song comes along, with a more upper beat, but between you and me, as The Cure, I expect a downer lyric. As I thought, it’s love gone wrong! Best ballads ever are made of that. One of the back vocals are present at all time (maybe it’s reverb, maybe it’s echo, but it’s all the time) and annoys the fuck out of me. However, there is a sort of happy a capella back vocals as well, and they are fun. It’s the shortest song of the album, but it’s great, and makes you wish it was longer, even having a bridge that sounds out of place in a bad way, but that’s maybe only me. This song should be listened to, it is great.
5th track: “Endgame” – As long as it doesn’t have anything with Highlander, I’m in. Well, wouldn’t you know it, it’s an instrumental. I believe it was on my review on Cosmic Thing by the B-52s that I praised a rare instrumental with vocals as an instrument, without any lyrics. This one is also one of those. It reminds me of some of the more psychedelic work of the Beatles, overall a soothing melody and it works really well. It is calming, reflexive, but is not a meditation song, it still has a creepy rock and roll feel to it, with the steel guitar being the instrument that most brought my attention. It is a beautiful song, unusual for the album I’m working with… or maybe it isn’t.
6th track: “Shiny Happy People” – Lyrically, it’s at least interesting: it’s one of those “everyone around me is happy, maybe forcibly even, but I ain’t”. Melodically, it reminds me of Mad World, there is also a female back vocal that picks up this album and put it to work again: kind of like “oh, we are used to this already… ooh, something different… oh, the next is the same as before, but now, I’m cool with it”. The intro is misleading of what you expect from the rest of the song, as is the bridge. I don’t think this song qualifies as great, but it deserves a relative “good”, you know?
7th track: “Belong” – Man… this song… it’s fucking awesome. I mean, seriously, it is beautiful. Insightful, different, complete, has a great atmosphere to it… I fucking loved this song. Screw Losing my Religion, this one would be my pick. It has that “She’s Leaving Home” feeling, but it’s completely downplayed to a simple song and someone just saying the lyrics, which could be obnoxious, but this time around, it really hits the nail. We don’t have our usual singer this time, but he does the job. I really suggest going after it and listening to it: it never became a single or anything, and truly, it’s not musical genius, but it has a great vibe to it.
8th track: “Half a World Away” – With a more folk style to it, I think this is the first time they did the “alternative rock” formula, even though the formula is hard to explain. It sounds a lot of a lot of works from U2, actually… it reminds me a lot of Joshua Tree… The song is a downer insightful song with the R.E.M look all over it… but I’ve got to say… after some other tracks, it’s not exactly great. The background is great, but the singing makes all the songs sound the same… I don’t know maybe after 8 songs I grew immune to the REM factor…let’s try the next one.
9th track: “Texarkana” – The feel of this song is different… but not so much different to make it amusing… or even interesting. The singing is different, the guitar is different, with a lot of different effects, there is a strings section that is so discrete throughout the song that you find it to be cheap. Let’s face it: strings in the background is a cheap move to make your song seem deep, even though it may not be, and R.E.M is using that in a bunch of these songs. The song is imaginative in the lyrics and it has a cool harmony, but again, nothing too awesome… the ending is not bad either… let’s see if the next song is any different…
10th track: “Country Feedback” – I was expecting more of a country song, but it’s definitely not. It tries to have a western movie atmosphere, but fails in the instant there’s a keyboard all the time in the scenery. The lyrics mentions country stuff mixed with activist stuff and it doesn’t work. It fails miserably… the song, instrumentally speaking, is not exactly bad, but there’s a ton of other musical groups that would’ve done better. It’s like one of those songs that were kind of wasted because of a singer and some bad decisions… I would enjoy seeing someone doing a better job than he did with a cover version.
11th track: “Me In Honey” – Oh my god, I was partially in the boat for the singing and feel of REM, but honestly, now I’m hating it. The song is boring, and even though it has the same female vocals of Shiny Happy People, it doesn’t save the song. It’s a boring song with a repeated beat, a melody that was used and reused and a broken rhythm that doesn’t appeal to me at all… and the lyrics seem invented on the fly, it doesn’t connect with the song some times, and that bugs me. Definitely a no no of this album.
So, how does it all hold up? Well, apparently REM is one of those bands that should be listened in short bursts, because after an album, I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of hearing any other thing, really. It’s a good album, kind of, but it wears thin… and it has some good parts… and it’s definitely the second best album of the four albums so far, but… I don’t know… would I recommend it? No, I wouldn’t, but… from its genre, it may be good. If you enjoy them for their music, maybe you’ll enjoy this album… it’s considered one of their best, after all. If you are a fan of classical rock or metal, this isn’t the album for you, but I believe that if you are a pop fan looking for something a bit more rock oriented, it may be your way in.
Next up, it’s… Schubert Dip by EMF. Never heard of it!