Evening old friend. It has been a long time since we last wrote to each other publicly. You are looking dapper in that oversized Derek Jeter uniform. Yes, the Boston Red Sox are not in the playoffs and the Cheatin’ Yankees got booted in the first round but there are more important things to discuss.
Let’s go back to that “Oh Shit!” moment of R.E.M. breaking up and having to reconcile our lives for a moment. They decided to do the admirable thing and come out with another Best Of set. I seem to remember when we were getting loaded at the Empty Bottle a couple months ago, your pleas to have another “Best Of” collection seem to have been answered. The first single from that is called…
We All Go Back Where We Belong
My first thoughts that came from listening to this song was that it felt like an extension of ‘Collapse Into Now’. Quoting another friend of mine, ‘Collapse Into Now’ became R.E.M.’s ‘Suicide Note’ aka ‘That’s It! We are breaking up the band!” The event was ‘Kaufmanesque’ in nature, a true, let’s commit Seppuku in front of the entire world and the only response back being . . . “But you are not going to tour?”
I think I will save the full review of Collapse into Now for our future podcasts but I think my initial response of putting this site on hiatus was due to the material that was written. The album did not delve into new territory. Obviously, that was never the point.
Back to the song at hand. The lyrics match some other themes, especially a certain song off of Out of Time (aka Belong) and seems to try to capture the mood of that baroque chamber pop sounds of the 60’s. I commented on your Facebook post at the time that I thought after the first listen it sounded like Belle and Sebastian. It seems to be one of those songs that was left off of Collapse into Now but included on this release for a purpose, to end this story properly.
Like anything else, it is the end of an era, 31 years of music and eons to contemplate their role on the Rock and Roll carousel. While listening to the song I decided to take a trip down memory and listen to their first ever single on the Hibtone label, “Radio Free Europe/Sitting Still”.
As I listened and contemplated further the sound of this song, I decided to go out on a limb on this one and not use some of the typical shout outs such as “The Beach Boys” or “Burt Bacharach” but rather The Monkees. The band had covered “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” in their first show and became a regular in early setlists. Honestly, what better band would you want to emulate? The Monkees were considered a joke at the time, their “Made for TV” pop band that fought for their rights to produce their own material. 31 years ago, the band R.E.M. were not necessarily the greatest musicians at the time but fought for their right to become successful at what they did.
Sure, the song does not fit the more jangly formula of some of the Monkees’ more notable hits, but the similarities remain.
Death is difficult and somehow a band that is trying to “Wrap it up” as they might say, cannot come out with a rock anthem as a final release to begin decade three of trying to change the world. The goosebumps that I get from listening to “Radio Free Europe” are not evident on “We All Go Back Where We Belong” and I am not sure that would ever be the point. The last chapter is often an Epilogue long after the climax has already occurred.
The Epilogue ties together the loose ends. It weaves the story back to the beginning.
At some point the true R.E.M. conspirator will connect all the dots, figure out the true reasons for the weird packaging, superimposed 4’s and albums “Filed Under Water” and come out with a true narrative.
From “Radio Free Europe”
‘Straight off the boat, where to go?’
Consider this: ”We All Go Back To Where We Belong”
‘I can taste the ocean on our skin
That is where it all begins….’
I have always felt the bands albums have followed a certain narrative and at times that can be frustrating since the narrative can at times be a little boring. So I cannot say that this song has any rating per se. It’s a cog in the puzzle, a piece of the machine and we have to judge the machine as a final product rather than the sum of its parts.
If you look at the 31 years and play them out there is a definite storyline going on.
Boy, if we ever did a podcast, I could imagine that this could get pretty interesting. . . hmmmm….