The Robster writes…..
And so we’ve made it – the final chapter. This week we round up the odds and sods of the digital-only singles released in the last few years of R.E.M.‘s existence. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of stuff, so let’s not hang around…
Back in 2006, between Around The Sun and Accelerate, R.E.M. were asked to contribute a track to Instant Karma, an album of John Lennon covers in aid of Amnesty International’s Campaign to Save Darfur. I never thought of R.E.M. as a band who would cover Lennon, but they decided to take on #9 Dream and don’t make a bad job of it, though they have remained fairly faithful to the original. It was the first of four singles released from the album and it was the second track on the tracklisting. The first? Instant Karma! by U2. I mean, in what universe do R.E.M. follow U2 for fuck’s sake? Even R.E.M. at their worst is better than anything Boner and his pompous chums could ever come up with.
Anyway, #9 Dream was released as a download worldwide on 13th March 2007. Most significantly, the line-up on this track included a certain drummer bearing the name Bill Berry! Yes, the first time he’d featured on an R.E.M. recording since New Adventures in Hi-Fi in 1996. That alone makes this track worth having, doesn’t it?
mp3: R.E.M. -#9 Dream
In addition to the three physical singles released from Accelerate, a couple of digital singles were put out too. In the UK, Until The Day Is Done was chosen. I really like this one. It’s the quietest track on the album, being mainly acoustic-led, and sounds a lot like Low Desert from New Adventures, and a little bit like Drive from AftP. It may not have sounded out of place on either of those records. Released on 14th November 2008, it’s that rarest of things – a digital single with a b-side. Houston is Accelerate’s shortest song, and this version is a bit rough in truth – right from the off there’s a dodgy keyboard chord in there.
I mentioned last week how Collapse Into Now is rather inconsistent and uneven. Here we get that illustrated perfectly. The first single from the album was released at the tail-end of 2010. It wasn’t a great way to introduce the final record in R.E.M.’s 31 year career. It Happened Today is an embarrassment, Stipe’s lyrics in particular are just dreadful. The opening lines “This is not a parable / This is a terrible / This is a terrible thing” made me wince when I first heard them. But that’s nothing compared to the chorus.
“It happened today / Hooray, hooray
It happened / Hip-hip-hooray.”
From southern poet and storyteller to composer of nursery rhymes for toddlers. What a sad comedown. Before we get 2 minutes in, Stipe appears to give up on the lyrics altogether and the rest of the song is just a choir of vocalists singing ohs and ahs. Apparently Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is in there somewhere.
And yet, the album itself starts with an absolute belter. Discoverer is one of my favourite late-period R.E.M. songs. It was chosen as the album’s FIFTH single, but really ought to have been the first in place of It Happened Today. It’s a huge rousing rocker in a What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? kind of way. Stipe describes this as his first overtly autobiographical song. He’s certainly put himself in a good light.
mp3: R.E.M. – Discoverer
Seven months after Collapse Into Now was unleashed, a brand new, previously unheard song hit the shelves….erm, the digital music sites. Recorded during the Collapse Into Now sessions, it was a song that the band felt should be held over as a parting gift to the fans who had stayed with them. We All Go Back To Where We Belong is a string-laden ballad with some lovely brass turns and a wonderful twangy guitar sound from Peter Buck. It sounds like something Burt Bacharach might have done, but like the album it was Jacknife Lee at the helm.
Released on 17th October 2011, We All Go Back… featured on the compilation album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011 and was to be the last time we’d hear new material from R.E.M.
They love a good charity project you know. In 2019, the band unearthed a lost song to benefit Mercy Corps’ Hurricane Dorian relief and recovery efforts in the Bahamas. Originally recorded for Reveal, Fascinating was on the original master version of the album before being cut at the very last minute. They recorded it again – in the Bahamas – in 2004 for Around The Sun, but once again it never made the final cut.
It’s not one of their better songs in truth, but then when you consider the era it was recorded it’s hardly surprising. To be fair, I like it more than anything on Around The Sun. The band released Fascinating themselves on 12th September 2019 as a one-off single on Bandcamp. While it’s not considered to be their official swan song, it’s worthy enough to be included here.
mp3: R.E.M. -Fascinating
You still here? If so, then JC and I must give a HUUUUUUUUGE thank you to everyone who has endured this series through thick and thin. Extra special thanks to those who left some lovely kind comments. It’s been tough going in parts, but hugely enjoyable.
Which brings me to one last little thing to mention. If, after almost one whole year of R.E.M. Sundays, you still crave more, then as of next week, I will be running a (thankfully much shorter) follow-up series examining those R.E.M. songs that should have been singles. There will be special versions, unreleased b-sides and even cover art for your delectation. I’d love to see you there. You know where I am… http://isthis-thelife.blogspot.com/
JC (with the final words)
I really don’t have all that much to say, except to go on record with an enormous ‘THANK YOU’ to The Robster for his incredible support in making all this possible; similarly, to everyone who has dropped in to add their own thoughts, views and opinions via the comments section, your continued involvement really helped spur the two of us on, giving us the confidence to push ahead with things. You only need to look back at how tentative we were early on in the series, certainly compared to how we were going about things in the latter stages, to see that we were very much responding to all the things you were saying.
I’ve had a couple of Zoom calls with The Robster recently in which he’s shared with me his plans for the next few weeks for those who might still need that R.E.M. fix, and not only that, but he’s going to get me involved a wee bit further down the line. So please, tune in to Is This The Life? as I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
As for the Sunday slot on TVV to replace R.E.M? I think what’s next might put a smile on some faces…….