Beachball

March 30, 2007

“Beachball” seems to be R.E.M.’s version of “yacht rock,” and though it’s totally pleasant and generally trumps most of their contemporaries’ attempts to self-consciously craft modern and luxurious soft pop, the general tone is a bit too hesitant, and the arrangement sounds as though it is entirely comprised of musical elements stuck between quotation marks. The song belongs to the “Michael Stipe pep talk” sub-genre, but the affluent resort town milieu suggested by the lyrics place its characters at a bit of a distance if you don’t share or aspire to that sort of lifestyle. “You’ll do fine” is exactly the sort of light encouragement I would give to my own socially awkward friends, but somehow it comes off a bit tepid and uninspiring in this context, perhaps because Stipe sounds more than a little zonked out through the entire song.

16 Responses to “Beachball”

  1. Star79 Says:

    I love your identification of the “Michael Stipe pep talk” sub-genre. Did that truly just spring out of nowhere around ‘Up’ , or does it have earlier roots? If it’s what I think it is, it is my least favorite thing about the newer albums.


  2. I think it’s been around for a while, but it’s intensified as he gets older. “Everybody Hurts” definitely falls into that category.

  3. wolfy Says:

    This song reminds me of the Neptune piece from “The Planets”…that same dreamlike feel and the fadeout that you barely notice. Wonderful.

  4. Michael Says:

    I love your blog by the way, but I want to challenge the notion that somehow, even substandard R.E.M. songs are still better than good songs by their contemporaries, if I’m reading, “generally trumps…” correctly. I would disagree with this kind of qualification, which is common for fans of any band that puts out a bum song or record. I think it can be safely said that there are scores of contemporary artists who have written much stronger songs than “Beach Ball”, and most of Reveal, even within that particular style of music.


  5. Oh, yeah, definitely. The position is never going to be that a bad R.E.M. song is automatically better than most anyone else, though that is sometimes the case. Re: “Beachball” — believe me, I’ve heard enough of this sort of thing over the past seven or eight years to have a realllllllly good frame of reference on the matter. I mean, just to pick a random similar act: I definitely think that “Beachball” is much, much better than anything from the past two Air albums.

    Keep in mind, I do like “Beachball,” even if I think it’s a rather minor and flawed R.E.M. song. I won’t be nearly as charitable to some other songs further down the line.

  6. Michael Says:

    Right on. I’m a pretty jaded R.E.M. fan myself. About half of Up I can still listen to, and maybe three or four from Reveal, and 1 or 2 from Around the Sun. It’s been that bad for me! I wrote the PopMatters’ review for AtS, which pretty much lays my opinions bare if you’re interested. Looking forward to reading more of this Blog!

  7. ozon Says:

    I always thought I didn’t really like Reveal after the four first songs but come to think of it, Saturn Return & Beachball are both solid songs. I gave it another spin and “Disappear” was the only one I didn’t really like.

    Maybe I’ll come to really love Around the Sun in 2010.

  8. Gerard Says:

    I’ve had an up/down relationship with post-Berry work. I wanted to like it from the beginning and I think convinced myself that I did. Then one day I was listening to this album and about half way through I realized I didn’t like it. Then I had to come to terms with the fact that it would never be the same as the IRS days. And that freed me. I have come to really like Reveal, especially the first half. I think I probably listen to this more than anything from the Warner years.

  9. zozoe Says:

    This song always makes me feel drunk. The whole album makes me feel like i’m experimenting with a cocktail of new psycotropics.

  10. Jim Says:

    I feel that Beachball should have been left off the album. Fascinating is a much better song for the album Reveal. I feel the music and lyrics to Beachball are dull. Why was Fascinating left off the album?

  11. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    “Beachball” is without a doubt my least favorite REM song. It doesn’t have enough melody or tune to propel the song forward for me. For me it is very much REM do a sleazy lounge singer doing the Beach Boys (in fariness, I think that feel was the band’s intention, but it still doesn’t work) and pales in comparison to “Beat A Drum” and “At My Most Beautiful” REM’s other two obvious Beach Boys tributes. The drunken sway of the song just leaves me feeling way too adrift with its thin tune. Finally, the icing on the cake of this song being really bad (at least for me) is that it robs “I’ll Take The Rain” of its proper place as the closing song of Reveal.

  12. ADB Says:

    I agree, it does sound tepid and half hearted. Also, for me, it’s too similar in mood and subject matter to Summer Turns To High, one of the few REM songs I REALLY don’t like. I prefer this one, but not by much. Apparently it was originally a much darker song, about a bunch of junkies the band used to see hanging around near the studio where they were recording (in Seattle I think), but Stipe didn’t want to write about something so depressing. I kinda wish he had…

  13. Clive Says:

    Does anyone else agree that Michael sounds at his most camp in this song. It’s so far removed from a ‘male rock song’. Not that this is a bad thing. I do think the song is very poor though. Compare this is a closer to ‘Find The River’!
    P.S. I love the ’32 Chord Song’ version of ‘Summer Turns To High’ and I really don’t like the album version. Anyone else agree?

  14. Scott Malobisky Says:

    Really ADB ?? Where did you hear/read that at ? Interesting

  15. ricardo rivadeneira Says:

    I do think that Beachball closes the summer-y concept of Reveal. What it describes is a “Beachball Moment”, where everything just floats on around you like the perfect summer day. Revel is an album for summer, and it evokes just that, except for one or two misplaced tracks. Just try to understand the concepto of the song and try to put in context with events of your life. I bet you will find a “Beachball Moment” at some point in your day, unless you are in Alaska of course.

  16. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Clive, this song is fairly campy, but I think “Tongue” has to win the award for REM’s most campy song.


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