I’ll be brutally honest – if I didn’t have the company of The Robster for this journey, I might well have been tempted to get off the train and simply give you a list of all the R.E.M. singles from 2001 onwards; but his knowledge of the band, and his willingness to be open and honest about what he considers to be a number of failings and disappointments throughout their lengthy and often stellar career, has been and will continue to be the reasons for sticking with us in the last few weeks…
The end of the 20th Century had been a strange time for long-time fans, to say the least. It had been difficult enough to embrace the electronica of Up, but it did contain a handful of songs, none of which were released as singles, to make it an occasionally interesting listen. Three years later and the fingers, toes and every other possible part of the anatomy were crossed that the new album, Reveal, would re-ignite the passion.
As The Robster highlighted last week, the advance single, Imitation of Life, had been a hit. My comrade-in-arms was a tad scathing last week in saying that the very familiarity of the song was a let-down as it felt like something from a bygone era when he had always thought of R.E.M. as a band which only looked forwards.
I actually quite like Imitation of Life. I hoped that it would signal the new album being some sort of return to the poppier side of the band, one which they would take the charts by storm and have all the songs on heavy rotation on whatever radio stations the demographic now listened to. Turned out not to be the case…..
I’m going to use some words from the writer Garry Mulholland who, as part of an Uncut Magazine looking back at the career of R.E.M., had the task of doing the retrospective for Reveal:-
“Reveal reveals exactly where the band as a collective where in 2000-2001, and why they would stay together for another 10 years. For the first time, R.E.M. do not sound like a group striving for something. They sound content.
Trumpeted, at the time, as a return to former glories…..it’s an elegant melding of the synthetic textures of Up and the quality songwriting style they had developed and gradually perfected over 20 years.
The guitars no longer jangled. The rhythms refused to drive along the dusty roads of a semi-mystical southern Rockville. The temp was relentlessly slow. Synthesisers and orchestras overwhelmed those primary drums-bass-guitar colours. Here were three guys in their forties dealing with a calm after a storm, having come so close to destroying the band that had defined their adult lives.”
It’s a lot of words to describe an album that, quite frankly, is boring for the most part. And in some places, simply terrible. For the first ever time, R.E.M. were inessential. The second single from the album kind of captures what I’m getting at:-
It’s a song that is slow to get out of the blocks and the pace never picks up. It was released in July 2001, a couple of months after the album, and it came in at #24. before plummeting to #48 and then #71 before its short stay in the charts was over. Thank goodness for small mercies.
There were, again, three formats. CD/cassette/DVD.
There were three tracks that made up the various b-sides, consisting of an instrumental, a cover and a live track.
For once, the instrumental has something to offer. It’s R.E.M as a surf-band and the whole thing is done and dusted in 95 seconds. Just time enough to appreciate it and before it becomes too repetitive. It’s one of those tracks that you’d likely need 20 or 30 goes (at least) before guessing who was behind the music.
The cover version is tragic. It’s R.E.M as a cabaret band on the bill at The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club. And it has Mike Mills on vocal.
The live version at least showed the band’s hearts were still in the right place as it was taken from a live free gig at Trafalgar Square, London on 29 April 2001, at which they were the main musical attraction at the South African Freedom Day, organised to mark the seventh anniversary of free elections. The star of the show, however, was Nelson Mandela…..
There was a third single lifted from Reveal. Feel free to pop-in next week to get The Robster’s thoughts on it.