Sunday, September 26, 2004

The new R.E.M. single "Leaving New York" makes me sad. This isn't intentionally created by the song, but by the realization that one of my favorite bands has completely lost its fastball for good. Not that I've expected much out of R.E.M. recently; it's been eight years now since their last good album and both Up and Reveal were largely dull with only a couple of redeeming moments ("Lotus," "Imitation of Life") scattered amongst the tasteful but uninspired proceedings. But the new single is so wan, so lifeless, so clumsy in it's straining for prettiness that it makes me cringe every time I hear it. It's a song that tries to conjure up an elegiac, sentimental feel with a big attempted chorus that's designed to soundtrack the emotional climax of a Hollywood date movie, but the whole thing (particularly the big clinching attempt-at-tearinducing chorus) completely fizzles out into nothing. Granted, R.E.M.'s in a tough creative corner right now: they can't go back and remake the classic albums they made 20 years ago, and any massive reinvention of their sound would seem like old guys awkwardly trying to be down with the kids. But is this bland Wonder Bread 'n Miracle Whip sandwich the best they can do? R.E.M. never really "rocked" to begin with, so you'd think that they might be one of the few major rock bands to survive the transition to middle age, but the strong melodicism and effortless beauty of their best works seems miles away at this point. (And in case you're wondering, yes, I am pretending that the Mandy Moore/Michael Stipe cover of "God Only Knows" isn't happening. Bad enough that I don't like their new stuff any more, I don't want to start retroactively disliking R.E.M. and Stipe for butchering one of the five greatest songs ever written.)

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