April 9, 2007
The weirdest thing to consider about Around The Sun is that it’s actually one of R.E.M.’s most experimental works, especially for Michael Stipe. Think about it this way — at that point in their career, the band had covered a LOT of aesthetic ground, and so they could have repeated themselves, gone off in a self-consciously arty direction that would have impressed (arguably) all the wrong people, or they could play around with very uncool things — adult contemporary pop, protest music, extremely direct lyrics. There’s something very perverse and contrary about the way the band threw themselves into an exploration of musical normalcy, but for each song that either transcends or subverts its own dorkiness, there’s a track like “The Outsiders” that can’t escape a crippling blandness.
One thing to keep in mind about “The Outsiders” is that at least part of its problem comes from incredibly limp production, and that it’s actually a much better song when performed by the band in concert. The live arrangement isn’t much different, but the percussion is far more potent, and Peter Buck gets to indulge in some arty guitar noise, and that helps to lift the song out of its “atmospheric” faux-trip-hop rut, if not actually improve the composition. Surely the most damning thing I could possibly say about Q-Tip’s lame-ass guest rap at the end is that Stipe sounds much, much better doing that bit live, though that comment doubles as some very faint praise for Michael. It’s kinda sad to see that they learned absolutely nothing from the mistakes of “Radio Song,” but um, at least “Radio Song” had a really nice tune! “The Outsiders” never rises above the level of passable mediocrity.