June 25, 2007
“Bittersweet Me” is more or less a forgotten single — it flopped on radio and MTV, it wasn’t included on In Time, it’s never been performed live. It’s from an album full of fan favorites, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone that has expressed a special fondness for the song. But still, it’s actually pretty obvious why the label selected it as the second single from New Adventures In Hi-Fi — basically, they needed an obvious radio song after “E-Bow The Letter” bricked spectacularly in the marketplace, and “Bittersweet Me” followed the soft/hard/soft formula of a mid-90s alt-rock hit more than any other song in the band’s discography. Also, its verses have the mild jangle of “old school” R.E.M., and it probably seemed like a good idea to reach out to older fans who were mostly alienated by the sound of Monster.
Yeah, so, all of that seems great on paper, and it’s a good catchy tune. But it didn’t work, and that lack of success seems to have retroactively tainted the song. In the context of Hi-Fi, it’s purely a case of a good song getting overshadowed by some seriously GREAT songs. In the marketplace, it was just another nice R.E.M. song when they needed something extraordinary in order to ward off a major commercial backlash. In retrospect, it really didn’t matter which singles were chosen from Hi-Fi — a large chunk of their mainstream audience was just looking for a reason to bail on them, and frankly, a lot of them had already jumped ship shortly after Monster came out. “E-Bow The Letter” was too solemn and arty, “Bittersweet Me” was too ordinary, “Electrolite” was too late. Hi-Fi had the songs, but it had no cultural moment.