The 21st Century has provided R.E.M. with 3 (un)forgettable albums to add to their canon. When one retraces R.E.M.’s career, these albums will not be supplanted at the top of their best albums. This is not to say that there have not been some genuine nuggets of greatness.
Some of this might surprise. Honestly, I have never had a huge fondness for Reveal and while Around the Sun might have some of the worst tracks in the R.E.M. canon it also has a couple gems worth repeating as does Accelerate.
Since we have about another six months between the completion of their work on their follow-up to Accelerate and it being officially released, lists like this will have to do.
10. Mr. Richards – (Accelerate) - Before we were accusing our American President of being exotic, un-American and harboring thoughts of turning America into a Muslim paradise, there was a time when our former Administration was too busy getting into trouble. ‘Mr. Richards’, who I don’t think is meant to be an actual person plays the role of anyone that uses their position in an unethical manner and the song succeeds in bringing this point home.
9. Hollow Man – (Accelerate) - I have always felt a connection to this song and it was an indication of me for R.E.M. to get back to basics and write a good clever pop song, something that I thought had been missing in their canon for quite awhile. While I do not mind the rambling experimental stuff, the stuff that sounded like pop came off as flat (Aftermath, Boy in the Well, Imitation of Life).
8. Final Straw – (Around the Sun) - R.E.M. posted a version of this song on their site before the release of Around the Sun in response to the actions of our former President Bush in respect to the Iraq war. I thought what really worked about this song was the emotion in it’s simplicity. It harkened back to the days of Out of Time/Automatic with it’s starkness and harsh lyrics by Stipe.
7. I’ve Been High – (Reveal) - ‘I’ve Been High’ has that sincerity of a love song but I also argue in some of the comments that Michael Stipe has made suggesting that this song would be a hit were misguided. My personal opinion is that the song borders on being “Too Sweet”. Stipe sounds great on this but the overproduction of the song just doesn’t feel right. I would love to see Stipe do even more electronica, I just don’t think that this is the one. He should focus more on his voice being an instrument.
6. Horse to Water – (Accelerate) - After a couple albums of ‘Lite Rock’ R.E.M. focused on the guitar on this album and to me this is the standout track regarding that aspect. Short, quick and sweet and a nice treat.
5. The Worst Joke Ever – (Around the Sun) - I would agree with Stipe’s thoughts on this track in that it was one of the best one’s on Around the Sun. Complicated and sad I feel it’s often forgotten on the forgettable Around the Sun. Part of the problem is that the delivery on Around the Sun is lacking. The live version on the Olympia disc is much stronger.
4. Man-Sized Wreath – (Accelerate) - What I always appreciated about this track was that it was the closest to matching the power of the earlier Life’s Rich Pageant/Document (ala These Days, Exhuming McCarthy, Begin the Begin). And although the song cannot hold any of the jockstraps of these songs that I just listed, the songs strength is providing
3. Sing For the Submarine – (Accelerate) - Stipe stands behind the pulpit and retraces his steps through various songs in the back catalog trying to eliminate some of the fears he sang in the past and offers “Hope and Change”. The song is a diversion from the garage rocking Accelerate and offers a moment of reflection by Stipe into the future.
2. High Speed Train - (Around the Sun) - This song has always held an shroud of mystery behind it and for that I appreciate it. Noting from this list, I believe that the tracks listed so far from Around the Sun
1. Around the Sun – (Around the Sun) - This song has always offered hope in our political/social arena with so much fear, and bat shit craziness that I would admit it’s been played more than a couple times in a row by yours truly.
Honorable Mention: Living Well’s the Best Revenge, I’m Gonna DJ, The Lifting and Beat a Drum in no particular order.
Honorable Mention Part 2 (Songs written in the 20th Century, covers and other rarities): Bad Day, Permanent Vacation, All The Right Friends, Favorite Writer, Fascinating, #9 Dream, Airliner, Redhead Walking and Magnetic North.