May 12, 2007

It’s hard for me to hear “Aftermath” without getting the sense that the band either deliberately omitted a big catchy chorus, or just didn’t realize that the song desperately needed one. Technically, “Aftermath” does have a chorus (“now you’ve worked it out…”), but it feels more like a bridge or a pre-chorus. I mean, there’s no reason why the song couldn’t have had two choruses — they totally pulled that off on “Turn You Inside-Out” from Green, and it’s a pretty fantastic and relatively underutilized pop trick. As it is, “Aftermath” seems unfinished and overly static, as if it’s just jogging in place for four minutes of our time.

There’s a good chance that the group intended for the song to feel lost in a haze of hesitant okay-ness, but even so, the effort is tripped up by the plodding, thoroughly mediocre percussion on the track. The drumming on “Aftermath” is drab and perfunctory, and more than any other song from the post-Hi-Fi era, it shows just how much Bill Berry brought to the band during his tenure. Even without coming up with a second chorus, I have no doubt that Bill would have figured out some way to subtly adjust the dynamics throughout the song and keep it from sounding so incredibly flat and aimless. I totally respect his desire to retire from touring with the band, but can’t he at least be brought in as a songwriting consultant for things like this?


38 Responses to “Aftermath”

  1. Flor Says:

    I’ve grown to appreciate Aftermath, but yeah: it could and should have been so much better.
    1) Like you said, the chorus is very unexciting
    2) The drum intro in the live version is so much better
    3) The final repeats of the chorus are just screaming for some Mike Mills harmonizing (which does happen in, again, the live version)

    Maybe they can record a new version as a b-side or something.

  2. Scott Says:

    The static structure (and beat) underscores the song’s topic–debilitating, even delusional, depression–by suggesting that what feels like recovery (“the universe … feels like home when it comes crashing back”) is just part of an endless cycle. Lyrically, it strikes me as a companion to one of my favorite Crowded House songs (Neil Finn being one of pop’s most adroit death- and depression-obsessed songwriters), the slower, sadder “Walking on the Spot”:

    The odd times we slip
    and slither down the dark hall
    fingers point from old windows
    an eerie shadow falls
    I’m walking on the spot
    to show that I’m alive
    moving every bone in my body
    from side to side

    Will we be in our minds when the dawn breaks
    can we look the milkman in the eye
    the world is somehow different, you have all been changed
    before my very eyes

    Walk around your home
    pour yourself a drink
    fire one more torpedo, baby
    watch the kitchen sink
    you’re lounging on the sofa, maybe
    see the living room die
    the dishes are unwashed and broken
    all you do is cry

    See the living room die
    the dishes are unwashed and broken
    all you do is cry

  3. I think you’re right and that the lyrics comment on the form and vice versa, but I don’t think they were successful in achieving the effect — the music doesn’t express the feeling precisely enough because of what I mentioned re: the percussion. With a smarter arrangement, it could’ve worked, but as it is, it just sounds boring and average.

  4. MM Says:

    I like the concept of your web site, but it seems that you are highly critical of every REM song. Do you like REM? What are some of the songs you like?

    Are you going to say something positive about a REM song?

    Why not comment about REM lyrics? They are critical to many REM songs.

    Anyway, if you are going to continue to be negative on every REM song when I visit your site I think I will give up reading this site.

    Its kind of shocking that REM themslves mentioned this web site on their own webs tei…if they only knew how negative you have been towards them.

    “Waiting for a positive review”

  5. Yanoff Says:

    This is one of my favorites off of “Around the Sun”. I don’t always need a big chorus to make a song take off (although I’m a sucker for such things).

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, but it seems to me that a mental tally I’ve been keeping seems to indicate that you’ve been critical of more songs than you’ve given praise to. Just random chance?


  6. protimoi86 Says:

    This song is so bittersweet that it’s difficult to listen to sometimes. The line “When london falls and you’re still alive…” always makes me think of the July 2005 bombings, it’s almost prophetic. Now that you mention it, Matt, I supposed a bigger chorus could fit in after the “now you’ve worked it out” part. But I think the song is just fine how it’s arranged, however dull the production may be.

  7. Evan Says:

    This is actually my favorite on ATS, though I wouldn’t argue that it’s one of their best over all. I really like the lines about watering plants and feeding the cat — Stipe doesn’t often get so domestic.

  8. Carolann Monroe Says:

    Well, it isn’t a song i’d purposefully dial up on my mp3 player, but it’s not one I hit “next” on either.

    The part I do like is the very top of it. You hear that low hum and then the guitars and drum come crashing in together just a few seconds in.

    I don’t get it being about depression, though the lyrics do seem to veer between really, really optimistic words and others that suggest a person just barely coping with the day’s tasks– so there you go.
    Now i’ll never hear it the same again!

  9. MM, I’ve been extremely positive about several songs — most of them, in fact. I like R.E.M. a lot, but not every single song. They aren’t created equal. This site is meant to be an exercise in criticism, not a fanboyish celebration. I’ve already written about several personal favorites, but I’m going to shy away from announcing “oh, I loooove this one” since that would get old very quickly, and it’s also sort of redundant. If a song is from the Berry era, chances are very good that I totally love it, or at least like it a lot.

    Keep in mind that I’m trying to mix up the order so that I don’t do all my favorites at the start and wade through the tracks I dislike at the very end. In some ways, I’m trying to pick off certain songs early in the game so I don’t have to deal with them later on. Also, I’m making an effort to go through the records at a somewhat even pace, and when it comes to the songs from the two most recent albums, it’s kind of a 50/50 shot whether I’m going to like those songs or not. So far I’ve done three songs from Around The Sun — one was extremely positive, one was very negative, and this one fell halfway between those extremes.

    Re: Lyrics — My approach to writing about the songs will depend on what I find the most interesting about it. Sometimes that will be the lyrics, and other times it will be the structure or some outside context. A lot of the songs, especially the early ones, have lyrics that aren’t very friendly to close analysis, so for example, a lot of the Murmur tracks will tend to focus on the sound of the music rather than what Michael may or may not be singing. The opposite extreme would be Monster — I can’t fathom writing about any of those songs without remarking on the lyrics.

  10. Andy Says:

    I have to agree that there’s something off-putting about the tone thus far. Definitely, it seems that you tend toward the negative. I reread your “About” page to understand why you are doing this, and I keep feeling like there’s something that feels a little flawed. By claiming that you are going to write about every R.E.M. song (including unreleased “rare” tracks–the ultimate “fanboyish” claim), you position yourself as an expert (maybe you are).

    By creating this comprehensive analysis, you’re developing something that feels definitive—whether or not you actually intend it to be definitive. Although you mention that the tone, writing style, and approach might change over time, your statement of intent feels like you’ve got an overarching thesis for this project. It doesn’t feel like a series of blog-posts or sketches: it feels like something far more intentional and directed.

    So, maybe my question is: could you restate your intent?

  11. Andy Says:

    Correction: you didn’t write “rare” unreleased tracks. It was “major non-album.” My mistake on that one.

  12. Scott Says:

    One need not be an expert to *react* to a catalog piece by piece. Not many bands can withstand detailed analysis (see Ian MacDonald’s “Revolution in the Head”–better than Tim Riley’s “Tell Me Why” and comparable to Riley’s “Hard Rain”–for an example of such a feat, by both band and author), and perhaps part of the result here, if not the intent, will be to determine that R.E.M. isn’t such a band. But close listening? Every act should be able to handle that (even if few benefit from it). Better to consider what makes a song (period–not necessarily what makes it good, great or poor) than simply compile another list.

  13. wolfy Says:

    “Aftermath” expresses the zeitgeist in 2004-resigned. And it makes light of how too many people stayed silent and “let the sink overflow” instead of shutting off the water.

  14. >I like the concept of your web site, but it seems that you are highly critical of every REM song.

    As we should all be. The day we stop being critical is the day we just sit back and say, “Yep, you recorded it, therefore it must be great!”

    What’s the fun in that? We all have our favorites and least favorites. If anything it gives Matthew credibility in my eyes, because I know he’s dealing with these songs seriously and not just trying to convince everybody that REM can do no wrong.

  15. Justin Says:

    He’s writing his thoughts about R.E.M. songs. He has no obligation to anyone to do anything but what he feels. It’s his site. He could suddenly begin posting Hungarian goulash recipes. And we’d have to start our own blog or just go away.

    I love this blog and I check it several times daily. And I enjoy the negative posts just as much as the glowing ones.

  16. Mary Alice Says:

    yeah I doubt if MM will be back to read the response but I just wanted to say I love this blog! I don’t always agree with you, or the other posters, but I admire your stance on the songs a lot. I personally can tell that you really admire R.E.M. and that’s the only reason you’d spend so much time doing artistic criticism of their work. Artistic criticism can mean talking about both what’s good AND bad about the work and I would never say that I just see you mention the bad here, I don’t know what blog MM was reading!

  17. dan Says:

    you know, guys, it IS possible to love r.e.m. without loving 100% of their songs. if you think the author is being overwhlemingly negative, i suggest you read past the last couple of entries.

    i love this blog. thanks for sparking my interest in this band again!

  18. You don’t even need to go back that far! “Laughing” and “The One I Love” were both very positive.

  19. jim jos Says:

    i love this website, i too, check it often. I may disagree with some of whats written, but I feel as though I am doing so with other avid fans. I doubt that anyone would put this much thought/energy into a band that they didn’t love. Even if a particular favorite of mine might get thrown under the bus (I’ll take the Rain), its fine, I can give my counter argument or just not respond. I pick up as much from the responses as from the initial post.

    I think that all songs will be covered by the time that the new batch of REM songs are released. I am very, very excited about the new songs. I think REM has another knockout in them and between the GA hall of fame, the R&R hall of fame, #9 Dream with Berry and the latest best of disc, i think they will come out with something very strong which could knock us on our collective asses.

    in regards to Aftermath, though I don’t dislike the song, (“Outsiders” has grown on me as have “I wanted to be wrong” and “make it all okay”) I agree with much of what has been written about it. Bill would have kicked it up a notch. It does need that.

    Keep up the good work Matthew.

    its okay. it could have been better for the reasons listed.

  20. dan Says:

    speaking of that “#9 dream” cover, it’s not bad, but i’m sad they didn’t do more in the studio with berry. i understand not wanting to retread or rehash, but redoing a post-berry song with his input might’ve yielded something special.

  21. jim jos Says:

    guess I’m thinking glass half full at the moment, but I am glad that they were able to do something with him.
    #9 dream is one of my favorite covers they have done. worthy of a place on the second disc (or whatever the hell is happening then) of REM the best of

  22. Kirsten Says:

    I never really noticed the absence of a chorus until now, so I presume it’s not really required or I would have missed it. I don’t even think that there’s a problem with the way the song flows. It’s a good “walking” beat which can be carried through into the lyrics – walking through this person’s life. I love the line “It feels like home when it comes crashing back” – feels typical of my own life. But there’s some comfort in life falling apart and they do “work it out”. This song is great, but understated and not appreciated enough, by me at least.

  23. chinese brother Says:

    your blog is great, it really has made me revisit REM (which is a cyclic thing anyway). i miss bill berry and have not yet listened to around the sun. REM were a rare true collective, where at least until (and in my opinion, including) Automatic, every band member was as important as the other. yes, they need stipe’s voice, but buck, berry and mills each brought something(s) just as essential. i’ll take an easy hypothesis and curse the nature of celebrity for their downfall.

  24. MM Says:

    I am here…

    I never said he has to like very song…

    I was just saying that the tone was overall negative.

    I will keep coming back…but I will be curious to see how th future analysis turns out.

  25. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I like that Matthew can be critical of some of the songs and still be a diehard fan, that said I think you’ve missed the boat on “Aftermath”. This is my favorite song on Around The Sun and one of my very favorite since the departure of Bill Berry. Of all the songs since Bill departed, “Aftermath” to me feels more like old REM, in fact something about it has always struck me as Murmur-esque and that it would have fit in well on that CD. I love the piano that sort of trails Michael’s vocals throughout much of the song. To me, “Aftermath” has that pop sensibility that often runs through REM’s most popular songs, yet still is not a pure pop song (maybe because of its lack of a real chorus?). In any case, I really love this song. Also, yeah REM! Going with a new producer for the next album!

  26. Bandwagon03 Says:

    I feel like “Aftermath” is one of the best songs on ARTS, it’s just a great little jaunting tune. I think lyrically its about appreciating life after going through a traumatic experience, “and it makes you laugh
    and it makes you cry, when London falls and you’re still alive.”

    I put it up there with “Electrolite” as a newer, catchy fun song.

  27. Glassmeow Says:

    I’m really enjoying this blog. It’s an intelligent discussion of the music and (so far) hasn’t disintegrated into flame wars nor empty ‘fanboy-or-girling’. It’s good to hear from those who do know some of the stories behind the songs and it’s good to hear others’ thoughts on how the music affects them personally. Music (and all art)IS subjective.

    I like “Aftermath” okay. It sounds more like ‘old school’ R.E.M. than the rest of the album. Probably liked “The Boy in The Well” or “Wanderlost” better

    Was pretty underwhelmed after one listen of the “#9 Dream” cover (perhaps more exposure will improve it for me?)

    (& it doesn’t hurt that NAiHF has been well represented and discussed – my personal perennial favorite).

  28. EK Alex Says:

    This blog is fantastic in my opinion. It’s always interesting to hear so many constructive and different viewpoints on REM’s material. With regard to Aftermath, my own feeling is that it’s the poorest single in the REM repetoire. It doesn’t really go anwhere and typifies the bland nature of Around The Sun.

  29. dan Says:

    Revisiting this song, I AM struck by how good the melody is. In the verse, at least, there are a few hooks. I disagree that this would fit on Murmur, but it the sound, style, and quality of the verses would make them right at home on a song on Out of Time or Automatic. By comparison, the chorus pleasant, but rather lacking.

    Maybe they got confused and swapped the verses and choruses?)

  30. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Just in response since I am the person who said it would fit on Murmur – Obviously the production is very different but something about the escence of the song just fits that Murmuresque vibe for me and I think had it been produced by Dixon and Easter at that time it would have fit in wonderfully. Can’t really explain it better than that.

  31. no2j Says:

    Count the Joe Strummer references in this song… he died around the time it was written. I make it three…

  32. Clive Says:

    As with the majority of R.E.M. songs they have a richness and texture that paves the way for being emotionally affecting. I recall have coming out of a long relationship when I heard this song and lines such as ‘in the aftermath open up your eyes – you’re so alive’ were quite inspirational. The song I believe is about dusting yourself off and getting on with life.
    I think we should take a step back into the shoes of a casual R.E.M. fan. Compare hearing this song on the radio in 2004 and hearing Man On The Moon on the radio in 1992 and I think that speaks volumes for how much their music sensibility has declined. This song should have remained an album track. For what it’s worth I thought the video was weak too, despite it’s attempt to be artistic.

  33. Scott Malobisky Says:

    listened to Around The Sun today at very loud volumes while riding around under the blaring blue sky topless and it sounded SO GOOD–maybe the fact that I haven’t listened to it in a while (even this song seemed peculiarly powerful today [??]), I don’t know..Might’ve been the fact that I’ve had a very tedious and frustrating week and yesterday I “broke thru”,like suddenly I had shed this huge weight on my shoulders after having a moment of insight where I “saw it all”..and what I needed to do ; and this song definitely captures that kind of cathartic moment when one sees what they have to do , life is fun again as one hatches the plan and feels again alive and in control after an extended period of serious doubt

  34. om Says:

    This song always reminded me of Electrolite…

  35. Rob Says:

    I’ve probably left it far too late to comment on this one, but the meaning of this song for me changed completely after the London bombings of July 7th 2005. I lived in London for three years in the late 90s, and given that the band had to postpone the Hyde Park concert because of said attack I always thought it would have been a nice tribute if they played this song at that concert.

  36. soul searcher Says:

    this is actually my favorite rem song. the imagery that it creates and the feel of it is great for me. listen to it and envision the scene being played out. especially the second verse.

    It’s easy to dismiss the “what’s it all about” crowd.
    There is no doubt. it’s this, here, now.
    And you close your eyes.
    He’s not coming back.
    So you work it out, overfeed the cat.
    And the plants are dry and they need to drink.
    So you do your best. and you flood the sink.
    Sit down in the kitchen and cry.

    Now you’ve worked it out…

    this whole picture of someone telling everyone, i’m fine. i’m fine.” yet everything they do contradicts that is awesome mto me. i like the song. i like the simple stuff. if you listen to rem’s first few albums, most of the songs were very, very simple.

    that’s what makes them such a great band.

  37. no2j Says:

    Back to Joe Strummer seeing as I’m listening to the song just now and no one else has addressed it.

    Firstly, Joe Strummer (for those who do not know) was the lead singer of The Clash, a UK late 70s / 80s agit rock group.

    He died in December 2002, during the writing of ATS, of a heart attack in his kitchen. “sit down in the kitchen and cry.”

    The Clash had a very famous ‘sour’ song called London Calling.

    “now the radio stutters. snaps to life.
    some sour song that sets it right.
    and when [b]London falls
    he’d like to call[/b]
    but the stars collide.”

    Joe Strummer was also part of a band called Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros. They had a song called Cool N’ Out. The refrain was: “Wondering what’s it all about, what’s it all about. What’s it all about”


    it’s easy to dismiss the “what’s it all about” crowd.

  38. ScottMalobisky Says:


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