The Ascent Of Man
June 4, 2007
It’s a bit counter-intuitive to think of R.E.M.’s recent flirtation with AAA and Adult Contemporary pop as being experimental in nature, but in the context of their body of work, it’s actually a rather bold (and obviously very polarizing) departure from their established character as songwriters and performers. “The Ascent Of Man” is one of the more positive and amiable results of their apparent attempt to make odd yet emotionally direct soft pop. For one thing, just try to categorize it — it seems so benign, but it doesn’t fit in with any particular genre classification — it’s elevator music with extremely inscrutable lyrics; it’s a defanged glam rock tune that’s been slowed down to a crawl; it’s ersatz white guy R&B with a chorus that tries to stuff in more yeahs than “Man on the Moon.” It’s almost painfully sincere, and then Michael Stipe quotes Popeye. Only a group of very talented weirdos could write a song like this.