*Sigh* Ok, let's do this
I hated this album when I listened to it. So now in order to give it a fair shake, I will do something different. I will listen to one song only, write down my opinion, go and do something else and then listen to another. Maybe in this way I can find the one song that is OK on this trainwreck of an album (It will not be the one with the rap on it. Have you people learned nothing from Radio Song?!?! Do you guys secretly hate rap music and want to destroy it?). Deep breath, here we go:
1. Leaving New York
I'm grumpy and tired today and I know this song will be stuck in my head, I don't know why it is such an earworm, but it doesn't endear it to me. Why isn't Mills singing the background vocals (he is a bit, but it is mixed in the background and Stipe is singing over himself mostly)? It is a competent REM song. It has a nice bass run at some point.
2. Electron Blue
I actually like this song? I wish they would have mixed Buck's e-bow guitar playing and Mills's bass more in the foreground (I found a live version and really liked the expressionistic guitar), but the drum machines and piano is cool as well. Mills said later of the album that they did not give themselves time (releasing a best off and touring in between recording) and here you can hear that some more editing would have been called for, it is about half a minute too long.
3. The Outsiders
What even is this song? What is the small New Wave-ish keyboard riff doing there? And the rap part comes out of nowhere. At least you can here the bass again, too bad it is not interesting. It is not as painful as Radio Song though.
4. Make It All Okay
This song is boring. It is like one of the soft rock ballads that all sound the same. It even ends with a small piano run. The clichés in the song upset me. Not even Mills's background vocals can save it.
5. Final Straw
The song is called Final Straw and is supposed to be a protest song (this album came out 2004, deep into the Bush years). Too bad it is missing any kind of emotion. Nice country style finger picking, but for the first time I feel like the electronics are just ..there.. to have something going on.
6. I Wanted to Be Wrong
Omg, did they want to make a soft-rock, country album? Is this what happened? I blame Mills for this, he is the one who likes country. At this point I would take bad, but interesting.
I think the last song broke me a little, I don't know if I can go on with this. "Crossed" and "because" does not rhyme, Stipe. And you put that in the chorus? I think they just didn't care they just composed and recorded whatever and then went to have a beer.
8. Boy in the Well
Nice chord progression, nice bass line, nice melody, some nice harmonies on "on" in the chorus and an interesting organ. And then it goes on and on and on (it's 5 min!). The key change in the end is just unnecessary (and this is the band that did the 2 amazing key changes in Stand!), or should have come 2 verses earlier.
This song is actually ok. It is the Daysleeper / Imitation of Life song of the album, the once that sounds like REM and is released as a single. But it is nice and the little tuba part in the per-chorus makes me smile. I watched the music videos and it has Buck running around in pyjamas for no reason, which gives me the opportunity to point out that this is a thing he does. There is a part with him in a documentary about Athens where he sits on his porch in pyjamas and a bathrobe and then proceeds to show the crew his bathroom. When they won all the Grammys in 1992 he really did not want to go to the ceremony and said he would only go if he could go in his pyjamas. Which he did:
Mills hasn't gone full Nudie suits at the time, otherwise this would be the best band picture ever. Which leaves me to wonder, if I had to chose between a Nudie suit and pyjamas, what would I wear? (The answer is obviously a pyjama with sequin on it, best of both worlds!)
10. High Speed Train
I like this song, I almost can't believe it. There isn't even a "but" here. It is 5 min, but doesn't feel long, because new ideas get introduced as the song goes on. (The flamenco inspired guitar solo is cool). The basis of the song is a very cool bass line, picked guitar, distorted guitar (maybe an e-bow again? not sure) and some well placed effects. It is slightly strange, a little dark, but very melodic at the same time.
11. The Worst Joke Ever
You see there's this cat burglar who can't see in the dark.
He lays his bets on 8 more lives, walks into a bar.
Slips on the 8 ball, falls on his knife.
Says, "I don't know what I've done, but it doesn't feel right!"
12. The Ascent of Man
The song is nice. The "Yeah, yeah, yeah" in the lyrics sounds familiar, like I heard it in someone else's song. But I have to ask, what is it with Stipe singing over himself in the chorus? Why is Mills not singing the counter melody? Did he have a throat infection? Did he take a day off when they recorded the vocals? I checked a live version and he does it there (mixed way more in the background that the album version). It really bothers me. "I'm a cactus trying to be a canoe", I call it, Stipe was drunk when writing the lyrics for this album.
13. Around the Sun
This is fine, I thought. The half way through the drum part starts and I'm like "wait, this is actually creative?!"
Closing thoughts: When I heard Electron Blue, I thought that maybe I had been too harsh on this album, at the point I got to Wanderlust, I felt kind of insulted. Some of the songs seem to be just there so that they have something on the album. The few songs with interesting ideas suffer from lack of editing. The latter half is better, High Speed Train, The Ascent of Man (they should have waited for Mills to show up for recording, though) and Around the Sun being actually good songs. I'm very glad I stopped listening to them with Reveal, this would have broken my heart. I think if they had cut three songs (I nominate Make it All Okay and I Wanted to be Wrong at least) and put some more care into editing the rest this might have been salvageable. After this album REM got their shit together. Buck and Mills agreed to meet up in person and just jam for a few weeks to come up with material and they forced themselves to edit by keeping most songs under 3.5 minutes. Accelerate was seen as REM back in form.