We have to be careful how we tread here, REM has a huge number of devoted fans who will take the slightest negativity and harbour it in spite. Fortunately for us, there isn’t too many bad things you can say about this album.
The overall sound is fairly unexpansive, the instruments are consistent and there is not too much deviation from their well-known sound. There are some subtle details that can go unnoticed, they’re quite unique and give tracks a distinct flavour. The opening track ‘Radio Song’ for example had them employing their own hip-hop hype man. Appearing in the background, their own ‘Flavor Flav’ was even given the auspicious role of opening the album.
We really shouldn’t be mentioning the man again (the last mere days ago in our Concrete Blonde review), but it’s hard not to notice the similarities here. Not only does the absence of hair leave them with an uncanny resemblance, but vocally it won’t be hard to notice that they’re once again fairly equal. You switch these two for the day and I doubt even their band-mates would notice.
If we do have to poke some holes, there is a couple of teeny tiny details. The album was all pretty safe, the same vibe. I’m not asking for a heavy metal Christmas carol to close with, just something to talk about. ‘Endgame’ an intervening instrumental does offer something different, and it’s actually pretty dandy, but it could have been an opportunity to throw something obtuse and interesting in there.
There are of course some glaringly strong individual tracks on the album. Even the most musically illiterate will be familiar with ‘Shiny Happy People’ and ‘Losing My Religion’. The tracks are fairly inescapable, the PG lyrics allowed them to be scattered across films, radio stations, advertisements and department store speakers worldwide.
All in all, it’s a fairly remarkable album. I really enjoyed the track ‘Near Wild Heaven’, which I hadn’t discovered through the radio flogging the rest of them had received.
Special mention to ‘Country Feedback’, for dropping the sole and distinct F-bomb.
Listen to the album here.