Despite my falling out of love with R.E.M. following the abysmal Reveal, I still bought their singles and the In Time Greatest Hits package (but only because of the limited CD format). I still held onto a tiny piece of hope, see. The release of the not-very-new-really “new” song Bad Day did lift my spirits a bit. It had a bit of life about it and despite harking back to their indie-guitar heyday (after all it was written in the mid-80s), it felt like maybe they were done with the mid-tempo plodding and not-always-successful experimentation that marred their more recent work.
But In Time held another surprise in the form of a “proper” new track – Animal. And this is where I really thought we’d turned a corner.
Animal is fantastic. OK, maybe not the most immediately catchy tune in the band’s armoury, but it rocked in an entirely different way to how the band had rocked before. And boy did we need R.E.M. to rock again. It kind of sounds like they channelled the spirit of Monster while on LSD and listening to Revolver. In fact, that intro has definite parallels with Tomorrow Never Knows. It’s got that glammy swagger that the louder tracks on Monster had, but goes off in another direction altogether. While Monster wanted to take us to bed, Animal wants to take us into space. Stipe’s lyrics seem to back this up with lines like:
“Point me to the stars I’m up for the chase”
“The future and the truth, on my rooftop. Whoa!”
“I am vibrating at the speed of light / Take my hand, we’ll wind up the night”
“Tell me I’m the anchor of my own ascension / Tell me I’m a tourist in the 4th dimension.”
It’s a song that made me hope this was where R.E.M. were going. It sounded like they were making an effort again, that they actually still cared about making interesting music. But what amazes me is how polarising Animal appears to be amongst fans. It’s a real Marmite song – you either love it or loathe it. I really cannot understand the hate towards it though – it was the sound of a band who proved they still had something to give. They sounded energised and fresh. It was what every R.E.M. fan had been waiting for, surely. Alas no, some people just don’t like it. But that’s fine, some people like Imitation Of Life…
(JC interjects ‘Guilty As Charged!’)
Animal was released as a single on 5th January 2004 and peaked at a lowly #33 in the single chart. It was remixed for the single, and to me sounds even better, especially in the chorus. It’s difficult to point out exactly what’s different but if you put a pair of decent headphones on and listen to the two versions back-to-back you’ll hear what I mean. Live, it rocked even harder than in the studio.
Speaking of live versions, what about the b-sides? Well, in the UK, just the one lone format was released – a CD single which included a live version of the Reckoning fave Pretty Persuasion, recorded in front of a small audience in Clinton Recording Studios, NYC. It’s adequate, but not as energetic as they used to it.
The CD was also enhanced with a video featuring a preview of the forthcoming live DVD Perfect Square recorded in Germany the previous year. The song chosen? Yaaaawn…..
OK, so the UK b-sides were a bit of a disappointment, not for the first time, so here’s a couple of bonus tracks for you. Overseas, Animal came with some different live tracks. In both Europe and Canada, two CDs were released. One of them contained the Pretty Persuasion as featured on the UK release, plus from the same show, this superior version of a Document highlight:
A two-track CD in these territories gave us this little diamond from a session recorded for Nic Harcourt on LA radio station KCRW:
No doubt the UK fans drew the short straw…
Just eight months later, a brand new R.E.M. single hit the shelves, a prelude to their 13th studio album. I held my breath for a beautiful reconciliation…