Why did I fall out of love with R.E.M.?
I definitely used to love them: Back in the day, on 2252 Summit Street, we had regular R.E.M.-spaghetti-clean-up-the-house-Fridays when the duplex I shared with three other guys got too cluttered and filthy; I saw the band on four different occasions (and shared a bill once on the Monster tour); one of my bands, Waybald, covered “The One I Love” before it came out ’cause we’d learned it from a pre-release performance on Saturday Night Live. And so on and on.
So why haven’t I listened to anything apart from Murmur (and even that, not too much) in the past decade and a half. Perhaps I was simply burnt out–bored of the pretentiousness, the earnestness, the Rolling Stone–approved worthiness, the bass/guitar/drum dead-end of it. Or maybe it was because guitarist Peter Buck rebuffed the invitation to join my band onstage for an ironic/unironic version of “Freebird” (I’ve still the polite refusal letter somewhere).
On the evidence here, however, it’s because after joining Warner Brothers they simply didn’t have anything interesting to say to me anymore. Especially when the production is so clean you can understand everything the lead singer says. When they do try something musically different to the skewed, arpeggiated-Rickenbacker pop-folk of the first few albums, as on opener “Radio Song” or “Low”, it’s embarrassing–funky these guys ain’t–and the presence of KRS-1 just sounds desperate. Most of it is nice enough and none of it actually horrible, but really, I think Mike Stipe should’ve kept mumbling.
And what’s up with the cover? Did someone at Warners made them put that seriously uninteresting lettering design over what was an appropriately enigmatic mixed media image (a small black and white image of the original is printed on the inside sleeve)? Stipe takes half the credit for it; I hope he was trying to be funny.