THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 41)

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.

mp3: R.E.M. –  Animal [new mix]

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.

mp3: R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion [live]

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…..

mp3: R.E.M. – Losing My Religion [live]

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:

mp3: R.E.M. – Welcome To The Occupation [live]

A two-track CD in these territories gave us this little diamond from a session recorded for Nic Harcourt on LA radio station KCRW:

mp3: R.E.M. – So. Central Rain [live]

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…

The Robster

8 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 41)

  1. Weirdly I have absolutely no memory of this at all . Not sure I even heard it when it was released

  2. Well done The Robster. We’ve nearly got to a year full of REM Sundays and it’s still the first thing i read each Sunday morning!

  3. Ditto Mike’s comment. There’s been no better start to my Sunday than a cup of tea, a great read and R.E.M. through the headphones. I’m firmly in the ‘like’ camp as far as Animal is concerned. Good B-sides versions too. I haven’t looked ahead to see how many R.E.M. singles/instalments are left but I’m really going to miss this series when it comes to and end.

  4. Like last weeks offering I only heard the song for the first time when I clicked on the link.

    This is ok. Maybe a grower?

    Like others have stated I’ll miss this series. I’ve learned quite a bit about a band I thought I knew well – the writing has been top notch.

  5. I bought the Best Of double CD too, mainly becuase all my R.E.M. purchases from the period it covered were/ are on vinyl and I thought having a CD would be useful. Animal is pretty good- but I’d forgotten all about it. The constant issuing of live songs as B-sides was pretty poor stuff I always felt, regardless of the quality of the recordings. Having said that, the deluxe re- issues of the IRS albums, Murmur and reckoning especially, which came with full gigs from their 83- 85 heights, were brilliant and that rare thing, live albums I’d actually play repeatedly.

  6. Like FoRW, I had completely forgotten this (until last week when the mention of two singles from “In Time” reminded me of it. At the time I bought the CD for the extra CD and barely gave the first disc a spin. I think I probably dismissed “Animal” as too Beatlesy for my tastes – I recognised the intro as the “Turn off your Mind…” song which my wife confirmed is “Tomorrow Never Knows”!

    In hindsight, it does indeed seem a potential path they could have taken and (perhaps in light of what hindsight shows us really happened) we may wish they had.

    Interestingly, the live version from the promo concert accompanying “In Time”, sounds like what the next album could have been with harder guitar sounds and less trippy vocals. Shame that this road was only followed after the forthcoming diversion. I’m looking forward to seeing what The Robster and JC make of the road taken!!

  7. A new one for me too – and I like it. Great read as usual – and the
    last line is a brilliant tease.

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