Make It All OK

August 13, 2007

Oh dear…it’s R.E.M. Speedwagon.

Chuck Klosterman wrote an essay about how musicians like Coldplay and movies like Say Anything are all about presenting a notion that he described as “fake love,” i.e., a sappy, over-dramatic version of romance that plays into our most unrealistic expectations of actual relationships. Klosterman’s argument is essentially that idealized, aestheticized versions of love get in the way of most people’s ability to appreciate their own lives, but let’s face it, he’s no Guy Debord. Chuck buys into all kinds of art that sells an image disconnected from reality, so what he’s really saying is: “This wimpy, overblown sentimentality totally sucks.”

“Make It All OK” seems to exist as though to prove his point. Its sound is pure “fake love” — if there was a video for it, it would have to look exactly like an episode of Dawson’s Creek or Grey’s Anatomy. Actually, the song is so limp and saccharin that it barely seems strong enough to be a part of either soundtrack. Effective “fake love” songs operate on a ridiculous certainty of emotion, but “Make It All OK” is just a lot of snooze-inducing relationship drama. There’s absolutely nothing interesting about this song on a lyrical or musical level other than that it seems so completely out of character for the band in general, and Michael Stipe in particular. Where is the mystery? Where is the poetry? Where is complexity? Where is the dignity?


93 Responses to “Make It All OK”

  1. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow! I actually have always thought that this song was one of the better tracks off of ATS, not top 2-3 mind you, but above the middle. First, I will agree that this song DOES lack REM’s traditional mystery and poetry as Matthew suggests – it is quite straitforward – however, it seems to me not to be a love song at all, but an indictment of a former lover who has left and is now trying to get back into the protaganist’s good graces. Michael seems to be saying sarcasticially, “Oh, now you want to make it all okay”. I have always thought of it as quite a dark song lyrically. I also love how the song builds to that climax at the end where Michael says “if you offered me the heavens, I’d have to turn away” with full force of voice and a fair amount of drama and power. For me the song works, especially lyrically. The music is not very creative or exciting, but for me that doesn’t get in the way of this particular song.

  2. mouserobot Says:

    I never really saw this song as a love song per se; to me it’s about how you feel when you can no longer count on someone or something that once provided you with wisdom and comfort. It’s kind of like a companion piece to Losing my Religion in a way.

  3. corduroy13 Says:

    Where is the dignity? It’s Around the Sun! There is no dignity there!

  4. Paul Alferink Says:

    Around the Sun
    File under Suck

  5. Mary Alice Says:

    I agree with Beethoven’s Deaf, he said it well. I think it’s a great song – not the best REM’s ever done but still very nice. And I think the emotion in the song is very real – I’ve felt it before. Then again you may still get back with that person out of desparation or something (Tongue, anyone?) because I have given in to a person like described. I said “you hurt me too much for me to get back with you” and yet I did. I also like the melody. It’s not exciting but it’s honest.

  6. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I also would like to add here a comment that I prefer Around The Sun to Reveal and the amount of ATS bashing sometimes surprises me. The production and even the style of the songs on ATS and Reveal are really quite similar (both are languid, personal, fairly direct, and viciously overproduced). In fact they 2 CD’s have always seemed like companion pieces to me with Reveal being the “summer” album and ATS being the “winter” album. Seeing as how they are so similar I find the bashing of ATS strange since Reveal, while not always loved, seems to have escaped the same criticism.

  7. jek Says:

    yeah, i’m not feeling this one much, either; also, all of the transitions sound really awkward — none of the pieces of this song sound like they belong together.

  8. maclure Says:

    Ah, how opinions differ. Probably my favourite from ATS. I recently copied to my mp3 player the 3 or 4 best songs from every REM album for a proper cross-section of their music. This is was the first from ATS I put on there… Let me try and explain why.

    I think its been said above, but there is more going on lyrically than a standard love song, IMHO. I quite like how this tension with a complicated history and the promise of a bright future for the couple in the song is described. I quite like how JMS pulls in Religious/Christian imagery to describe various elements in the song “Jesus loves me fine, but his/your words fall flat this time”… “If you offered me the heavens…”we don’t have a prayer”. It’s as if salvation of some kind is being pledged by the other, but the protagonist doubts the “no strings attached” offer. Even the line “Did you believe I finally turned away?” could be read religiously – relationships (like religion, I suppose) are forged on belief and faith, and for the protagonist in the song, neither of these can be taken for granted.

    Musically, it is dull, true. But not totally dull. I think the song coheres nicely – verse, chorus and bridge all fit. I like the instrumentation because it’s straight up piano, organ and guitars, not too many overdubs or whirly bleeps like the rest of the album. And it’s nice to hear Mike backing the chorus.

  9. maclure Says:

    Heh heh – just noticed that jek (above) made exactly the opposite point to me about the transitions and parts of the song. Oh well!

  10. jim jos Says:

    Reveal has some moments for me, there is enough there to keep me interested, it is decent enough. I like BWD idea about summer for Reveal, and Around the Sun being winter, but I have always thought that of “Up” being the night, winter album of gloom followed by the bright summer, come out of the darkness Reveal. Those two albums seem more of a piece to me, but that’s just my take.

    While the band put enough on Reveal to keep me interested, Around the Sun just seems so bland to me.
    Exactly because there are songs like this on it.

    Singing about romantic love is fine and the band can do it really well (i.e. Half A World Away), and having more direct lyrics can be extremely effective for them (Everybody Hurts) but the lyrics for songs like Make It All Okay just come off as being inane.

    No, to me its true, ATS is their first bad album. But, its all okay, because

    1. If the Dublin shows are any indication, they know that they lost it here, maybe became too complacent or lazy and that they have to put much more into the next one.
    1.1 How many bands can say they didn’t put out a bad album for 22 years or made 12 consecutively good or great albums? That is phenomenal! So many groups can’t put together three good ones. (and me the loser who couldn’t put out any) R.e.m. is one of the very few groups that can, without a doubt, put out two “best of” albums. Though In Time was terrible; a better collection would have been 1988-1997 with more songs from their first five Warner Bros records and no tacked on new tracks. (four from each and five from AFTP) would have held its own with IRS. It does on my ipod.

    So, working on Volume three…
    I can take four songs from Up, I can sub Great Beyond and come up with three from Reveal…can anyone
    possibly come up with four “best of” songs from ATS?
    Nope, you can’t do it…too many tracks like this one
    (I would put on Electron Blue, however)

  11. jim jos Says:

    Maclure, I was typing when you wrote about best three or
    four songs from each album. Interested to see what you have.

  12. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Funny, but I could do 4 from ATS: Aftermath, Leaving New York (lead single has to be included and I like it), High Speed Train, Around The Sun, (Make It All Okay would be fifth, but I also rather like Boy In The Well and Final Straw)

  13. Elliot H. Says:

    jim jos, “Best of” R.E.M. 1988-1997 would basically just be ALL the songs from Green through Hifi with Shiny Happy People missing and Great Beyond in its place.

  14. Elliot H. Says:

    By the way Matthew, that one link to Guy Debord sent me on a Wikipedia exploration for like an hour. By just clicking on the page links, I got to the wiki on Ethiopia.

  15. Rich Says:

    “Make It All OK” is, to me, a good representation of all that is wrong with R.E.M.’s most recent phase. Let me try and explain (and I’m sorry if I go on a bit).

    The most standout thing about R.E.M. in my view has always been that, for a bunch of guys who aren’t great songwriters in any traditional sense, they have amassed an unbelievably large catalogue of exceptional songs. This seemingly inexplicable success I think has to do mostly with the chemistry of the band members and what each has to offer in the songwriting process. I never believed that individually, Michael, Mike, Peter or Bill could produce a great solo album — there is something so fundamentally and uniquely democratic about the formula behind R.E.M.’s best work, and none of the pieces that make up that formula by themselves are enough to make something truly special.

    Take “Man on the Moon,” for example. Here’s a song generally agreed to be a top-level achievement for the band. It’s based largely on a two-chord riff that, from what I recall reading, came somewhat accidentally from Bill messing around with a guitar. A few more chords are added to flesh it out into a song, and these are the usual open chord suspects seen in most of R.E.M.’s work — this may have been mostly Peter’s doing, or possibly Mike’s. Still, nothing special yet. Then Mike comes up with this simple and memorable yet unexpected bass riff, which manages to accompany the rhythm chords perfectly while transforming them into something counter-intuitive. Bill’s percussion adds another simple layer that makes the track stand out further, by eschewing the folksy direction one might have thought the song was headed toward and instead crafting something almost tribal. Add some lead guitar riffs and you’ve got what could be a pretty original mood piece, but the secret weapon has yet to be added. Lo and behold, Michael’s superb sense of melody gives the song a soul and one hell of a hook, not to mention a lyric sort of about Andy Kaufman that just looks insane on paper yet somehow, in this context, seems profound. And there, a classic is born: a bunch of pieces that might not be much by themselves, placed together in a way that nobody else would ever have thought to do, and made magical by the ultimately indescribable chemistry of the band members. This is what I mean when I say they aren’t traditionally great songwriters — none of them are Lennon or McCartney, or Jeff Tweedy for that matter — their songs lack a central personality and instead are real representations of the whole, much more so than any other rock band I can think of.

    This is why taking Bill out of the equation has such a profound effect on the band’s sound, much more so than if any other band loses its drummer — you can replace the guy behind the drumset, but you can’t easily replace the hole he leaves in the R.E.M. song formula. That’s not to say there aren’t songs from the post-Bill period that I like — I think most of Up is spectacular, in fact — but it isn’t exactly the same band.

    And finally, this brings us to “Make It All OK,” which shows us exactly where the songwriting process got mucked up. The individual pieces of the song really are not that bad — the (presumably) Mike-dominated piano work could have fit in a different context on Automatic for the People seamlessly. Michael’s lyrics and melody, though they come across as sappy here, could very well have worked if the arrangement behind him provided any kind of contrast. But instead, we get a song where all the elements go exactly where anyone might expect them to go, and this is completely the opposite of R.E.M.’s most brilliant past moments. There are no musical surprises here, the likes of which once formed band’s emotional core. It seems that with the band membership rearranged, it is no longer as easy to spark that magic wherein all the pieces come together so curiously, where the song is ten times better and more unique than the sum of its parts. No, “Make It All OK” is disappointing for the very fact that it IS the sum of its parts, and that is ALL it is. That may be why, even if you enjoy the song, it still doesn’t really FEEL like R.E.M.

  16. jim jos Says:


    I would throw in Leaving New York, as it is the single and I do like it to (even though the “leaving was never my proud” is like a thumb in the eye to me)
    No Electron Blue? It’s all subjective. I do agree with Matthew that “Aftermath” needs a better chorus…if I put on the original version of Final Straw would that be cheating? HST and BITW are kinda meh for me. I could put “Around the Sun” on there though. It is a better song hearing it on its own, off the album.

  17. jim jos Says:

    Elliot yeah there is a lot of great stuff in those five albums, don’t take Great Beyond away from post Berry R.E.M. though!

  18. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Thought I’d take the challenge: 3 songs from each proper album (including Dead Letter Office/Chronic Town) plus 3 extras – compilations, soundtracks, B-sides, etc. If I was stuck on a deserted island these are the 3 songs from each album I want on my ipod.

    Murmur: Laughing, Talk About The Passion, Perfect Circle
    Reckoning: Camera, Seven Chinese Bros, So. Central Rain
    FOTR: Driver 8, Old Man Kensey, Feeling Gravitys Pull
    LRP: Begin The Begin, Fall On Me, Superman
    Document: King Of Birds, Finest Worksong, Disturbance At The Heron House
    Green: Orange Crush, You Are The Everything, World Leader Pretend
    DLO/Chronic Town: There She Goes Again, Pale Blue Eyes, Wolves Lower
    OOT: Losing My Religion, Country Feedback, Low
    AFTP: Drive, Everybody Hurts, Monty Got A Raw Deal
    Monster: Circus Envy, Crush With Eyeliner, What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
    NAIHF: How The West Was Won, Electrolite, Leave
    Up: Why Not Smile?, Hope, Suspicion
    Reveal: I’ve Been High, Beat A Drum, Saturn Return
    ATS: Aftermath, Around The Sun, High Speed Train
    Extras: It’s A Free World Baby, Bad Day, The One I Love (acoustic)

  19. jim jos Says:

    Takes guts to make a list like that on a board full of voracious R.E.M. fans. Thanks for sharing! I could make a best of that I would put out there as a total representation (where you would have to put some of the things missing on your list on i.e. End of the world, Radio Free Europe) but if I was going to a desert island and it was just me and I wasn’t pretending I was working for WBros. OK *takes a deep breath*
    Murmur: Radio Free Europe, Sitting Still, Talk About the Passion
    Reckoning: Pretty Persuasion, Rockville, So. Central Rain
    FOTR: Maps and Legends, Driver 8, Old Man Kinsey
    LRP:Begin the Begin, Fall on Me, I Believe
    Doc: One I Love, End of the World, Welcome to the Occupation
    (you can tell I think and I feel fine collection is almost spot on, except I like the more so. gothic feel ing FOTR songs)
    DLO/Chronic Town 1,000,000, Pale Blue Eyes, King of the Road
    Green: Untitled 11, Orange Crush, You Are the Everything.
    OOT: Country Feedback, Me in Honey, Losing My Religion.
    AFTP: Nightswimming, Find the River, Try Not to Breathe.
    Monster: Kenneth, Crush with Eyeliner, Star 69.
    Hi-Fi: Leave, Undertow, Electrolite.
    Up: Lotus, Sad Professor, Hope.
    Reveal: I’ve Been High, Imitation Of Life, Reno.
    ATS Electron Blue, Leaving New York, Around the Sun.
    extras It’s a Free World Baby, Suspicion (the live video single version I suppose) and First We Take Manhattan.

    That would be what it would look like today. It is always subject to change. I could pick out a bunch of them and replace them with a bunch and it would be just as fine (So Fast, So Numb, Man on the Moon, Perfect Circle, etc. etc. etc.). HUGE body of worthwhile work.

  20. jim jos Says:

    ok, forgot Great Beyond for my extras portion. Put that there instead of Manhattan….:)

  21. David T. Says:

    I’d have to buy an iPod first. Oh, and figure out how to get to said deserted island. But this’d be my list.

    Murmur: Pilgrimage, Perfect Circle, 9-9
    Reckoning: Harborcoat, So. Central Rain, Camera
    Fables: Maps and Legends, Life and How to Live It, Auctioneer
    LRP: Begin the Begin, Flowers of Guatemala, I Believe
    Document: Welcome to the Occupation, Disturbance at the Heron House, End of the World…
    DLO/Chronic Town: Voice of Harold, Bandwagon, Carnival of Sorts
    Green: You are Everything, World Leader Pretend, Orange Crush
    Out of Time: Low, Near Wild Heaven, Half a World Away
    Automatic: Try Not to Breathe, Monty Got a Raw Deal, Find the River
    Monster: WTF Kenneth?, Crush With Eyeliner, Star 69 (jim – didn’t read your list till after I typed mine!)
    New Adventures: How the West Was Won, E-Bow the Letter, So Fast So Numb
    Up: Lotus, The Apologist, Why Not Smile
    Reveal: I’ve Been High, Saturn Return, Imitation of Life
    Around the Sun: Boy in the Well, High Speed Train, Around the Sun
    Others: The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Fretless, Photograph

    That’s today’s list, anyway…

    I wish I had much of anything to say about Make It All OK…; as a listener, I sometimes can attach past emotions/experiences to the lyrics; other times, I just don’t feel much of a connection. I neither seek it out specifically nor skip it generally when I listen to ATS. However, after attending the Ninth Ave. Street Fair in NYC last year, I now have a really nice visual for the second verse.

  22. Kirsten Says:

    It’s about that one person who you cant shake. You try, but even though they treat you like shit, you keep going back for more. I love “Jesus loves me fine, and your words fall flat this time” – so full of strength and determination, just to be turned into “Jesus loves me fine, but his words fall flat this time” later in the song as again, the singer admits defeat. To me that is classic REM. I was listening to ATS last night on my way home from work (and I’ve got it again for tonight) and whilst I was listening to this one I was thinking about how good it is. Nothing spectacular, like you’ve all said, but I like it. The music fits with the song, it’s meant to be a quiet, underrated piece. The whole song is sung with dispair.

    Four songs from ATS –
    The Outsiders, Aftermath, The Ascent of Man and Around The Sun.
    And that’s not even mentioning Leaving New York, Make It All OK, Boy In The Well or Worst Joke Ever.
    8 Great songs out of 13? The other 5 aren’t bad, just not as good – Wanderlust is the only one I don’t like. Can’t call that a bad album……..

    But then, I’m bias ’cause I just love REM. 🙂

  23. 2d Says:

    this song is not bad but not that great either. it reminds me too much of “i will survive” in terms of sonical texture, the slide guitar is sort of cheesy and the overall emphasis on michael’s vocals is one of the problems with their more recent works (the fact that most songs sound like “the michael stipe and backing musicians band”). the lyrics are saccharine but somehow poignant, and his restrained tone and slight trembling inflexions give flavour. i can see the appeal of this song, but it still feels quite unfinished and over-sappy. the jesus/you comparison is intriguing *thins until the end of the world* but lacking the necessary depth to provide a strong lyrical basis.

  24. 2d Says:

    p.s.: and the title does sound more OK with “OK” instead of “OKAY”. “OKAY” feels more… redneck i guess 🙂 no offense.

  25. Kirsten Says:

    Why did you choose to change Okay to OK? Was there a deliberate point to it, or just a mistake?
    (I’m analysing you as if you were Michael Stipe now!)

  26. Mr Cup Says:

    This is one of the 4 or 5 that didn’t make it to the iPod. I’m kind of happy to have largely forgotten it. I don’t want to sound too viscious but jeeeeezus, what were they thinking?

    The talk of REM being more than the sum of it’s parts is spot on. Similarly, I think this IS a solo Stipe album. This is the sort of music someone who couldn’t put music together (like me) would come up with. The better songs sound like echos of other songs, the rest kind of musically strangle each other with blandness.

    The Post-Bill era is a new REM. Kind of like your best friends brother (or sister!). There are similarities and you go out of your way to like them because you have such a great history with the other. But some of the behavioral differences can be really offensive.

  27. jim jos Says:


    Maybe this is a difference between U.S. and Aussie releases…but the US release does list the track as
    “Make It All OKAY” with Okay spelled out.
    Maybe its a So. Central (south central) type difference amongst pressings?…I believe that Matthew, like me, is an American.

  28. jim jos Says:


    nice list, feel ya on the Monster songs esp! Its a testament to R.E.M.s greatness that a several people can create a “favorite” list and many of the songs can be different…sign of a great, great band.

    Kind of wonder why I am the only one who doesn’t feel the overwhelming love for Monty. I think its a great song, don’t get me wrong, if it were on ATS I would put it amongst my three for sure.

    But AFTP is just so rich. Drive, Man On the Moon, Try Not to Breathe, Sweetness Follows, Find The River, Ignoreland, Nightswimming, Sidewinder, Everybody Hurts….its better than most artists greatest hits collections. Not sure if I can place Monty that high…maybe I am missing something, Monty hasn’t been discussed yet, has it?

  29. Mr Cup Says:

    I love Monty. Just waiting for the right time.

    Seems criminal at times to impose a 3 song per album limit. It is a fantasy after all. Unleash it.

  30. 2d Says:

    “monty got a raw deal” is one of my favourite r.e.m. songs, it’s incredibly complex in its little over 3 minutes lifespan, like “laughing” and “exhuming mccarthy”. bill truly shines on that track, that hasn’t been discussed yet. can’t wait!

  31. Kirsten Says:

    Mr Cup, would you be so critical if ATS was the first REM album you had heard? Maybe it’s not their normal standard in your opinion, but if you weren’t comparing it to older, more favourable albums would the individual songs sound better? Or what if they were sung by a different band?

    Jimjos, Okay is spelt out here as well as in the US. That’s why I was wondering why on this blog Matthew changed it to OK. Just curious.

  32. Mr Cup Says:

    Hi Kirsten.
    Using my analogy of siblings, if ATS was the first brother I met I’d probably keep my distance.

    I only put the effort into going back to it so many times based on the history. If it was any other band I wouldn’t have bothered. They are the only band I grew up with that still exist I think. U2 would be the other but they started yawning 20 years ago and never moved me in any particular way.

    And I have to say, the first time I heard ATS I honestly thought it was the wrong pressing and it was in fact another Warner ‘artist’ that I was listening too. You can probably guess the reference point. Can’t bring myself to name him while I’m eating my porridge. It actually made me angry which seems odd. Maybe because they were, for me THE greatest band to grace this earth.
    Everything about them was just so great. Mysterious. Intelligent. Creative. Passionate. And above all THE SONGS!!!

    So I guess if ATS was the first album I heard, then no, I wouldn’t be so critical. There would be nothing for me to be passionate about.
    Simply another band on a radio station I probably don’t listen too.

    I feel better having screamed, don’t I.

  33. maclure Says:

    Return of the mac… Have been at work with no time to write. So, as prompted by Jim Jos (whose selection is similar to mine), the songs I chose for my mp3 player from every album. NB. these are not all my faves, but I steered away from some massive hit singles (ie. Kenneth, LMR) that I knew so well, I wanted to cleanse my pallet with something less heard…

    Murmur: TAT Passion, 9-9, Shaking Through
    Reckoning: Harborcoat, Time after time, Second Guessing
    FOTR: Maps and Legends (the name of my blog!), Good Advices, Driver 8
    LRP: These Days, I Believe, Just a Touch
    Document: Worksong, Heron House, Fireplace
    Green: Turn you inside out, Untitled, world Leader P
    Out of time: Belong, Texarkana, Half the World Away (but I have live versions of Country Feedback +Me in Honey on there already)
    AFTP: Try not to breathe, Find the river, Ignoreland (and Monty for a 4th)
    Monster: Crush with Eyeliner, King of Comedy, Strange Currencies (and I dont sleep, I dream for a 4th)
    NAIHF: Low Desert, New Test Leper, Electrolite
    Up: Sad Prof, Hope, Falls to Climb
    Reveal: Beat a Drum, Dissapear, I’ve been High
    ATS: Leaving New York, MAKE IT ALL OKAY!!!!!!, The Ascent of Man

  34. Paul Alferink Says:

    In deference to Jimjo, I took his list and made a mostly small changes. He made a really great list. . . .
    Murmur: Radio Free Europe, Take Oasis, Perfect Circle
    Reckoning: Pretty Persuasion, Rockville, So. Central Rain
    FOTR: Maps and Legends, Driver 8, Feeling Gravity’s Pull.
    LRP:Begin the Begin, Fall on Me, I Believe
    Doc: One I Love, End of the World, King of Birds

    DLO/Chronic Town- Gardening at Night, Wolves, Lower, King of the Road,
    Green: I Remember California, Orange Crush, You Are the Everything.
    OOT: Country Feedback, Me in Honey, Losing My Religion.
    AFTP: Nightswimming, Find the River, Man on the Moon
    Monster: Kenneth, Crush with Eyeliner, Star 69.
    Hi-Fi: Leave, Wake-up Bomb, Electrolite.
    Up: Lotus, Sad Professor, Hope.
    Reveal: I’ll Take the Rain, Imitation Of Life, Reno.
    ATS Ascent of Man, Leaving New York, Around the Sun.
    extras It’s a Free World Baby, Bad Day, (Yes, I know it’s ITEOTWASKI, but I liked it since I heard the demo version). and Great Beyond.

  35. Paul Alferink Says:

    Opps. Monster should be Kenneth, Tongue and I Don’t Sleep, I dream . . .

  36. Jared Says:

    Can someone please tell me where the Magical Musical R.E.M. “moments” are on Around the Sun?

    There’s little moments in REM’s songs… the slide guitar taking over in “World Leader Pretend”… the acoustic breakdown in “So Fast So Numb”… the the piano crescendo towards to the end of “Find the River”, (right after the line: river poet search naivete–insanely amazing)…

    The list is obviously endless (and would make for an endless thread that I’d love to start). But back to my point: ATS has none of these “moments” in my opinion. The closest might just be the overall build of Leaving New York (which I happen to like, thoroughly).

    This is why Around the Sun doesn’t work, in my opinion. I love REM. But Make It All OK is so NOT SPECIAL… it fits right in with the rest of this not special album.

  37. Andy T Says:

    I gotta unbite my tongue here – I’ve had this thought before when other song discussions start to devolve in similar ways that this one has.

    Personally, I think all this “best of” list talk is misplaced here. There really should be threads during or at the end of this course of discussions for overall album discussion, one for each album and including the greatest hits compilations – instead of burying these under a mediocre song from a mediocre album.

    Regarding the song Make It All OK – the song never really made any impression on me – bland and mediocre. Notable to me only because it sounds like it might actually be Mike Mills doing some harmony vocals. Hopefully his voice will be back in full force on the next album.

  38. ScottMalobisky Says:

    what are the words of Jesus that fall flat this time ?
    and I have to disagree , Jesus does not love “with no strings attached “..If that was the case he wouldn’t throw me in hell for all eternity because I wasn’t sure of his existence, well maybe Jesus would grasp the complexities involved ( he seems incredibly compassionate and cool)..The Father might be the problem …….that “arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction, jealous and proud of it; a petty , unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive , bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser , a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticididal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal,sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully of the Old Testament”

  39. Kirsten Says:

    I think a highlight would be the harmonies at the end of Around the Sun (the song, not the album). Both the music leading up to it and the vocals.
    Bit of a cop-out with the album name – couldn’t they come up with something else??

    (Tempted to put in a Man on the Moon reference for you Andy, but figured you’re probably sick of that from other entries.) 🙂

  40. Kirsten Says:

    Hey Scott M, God screwed me over several times too, but you need to calm down!! Look up at the sky, give him the finger and shout out “FUCK YOU!” LOL. Have a drink, put on some REM and RELAX!!

    Jesus loves me fine, and your words fall flat this time:
    His words give the singer the strength he needs to not listen to this person, but then he gives in, doesn’t listen to Jesus and goes straight back where he was.

  41. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “this is where your rope trick started to look stale..”,and that drum hit there is a magical moment for me from ATS ,is that a reference to autoerotic asphyxiation ? the whole song is magical to me…It touches me deeply and I love singing it really loudly ..the range of emotions , dark , then breaking free, finding the right crowd ,the ones who have the fire and want to live , the ones with the insatiable curiosity and desire to learn the secrets of the universe, fly high never gonna die so high so high (with class) and fitting in there , breaking the chains forever exponentially learning and giving and learning and giving forever flying so high forever and ever

  42. Kirsten Says:

    I love that line too, but I thought it was ‘this is where your road trip started to look stale’ Then you get that ‘it’s that sinking feeling, you know what it’s bringing on’ – that just pulls at your heart strings.

  43. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Kirsten , GOD NEVER SCREWED ME OVER!! NEVER !!it’s the simps who’s idea of God was so convoluted and stifling stupid-small that fed it to an impressionable child who had no other input on the matter ’til he got wise and started reading that screwed me …….But so much irreparable damage is done (well , at least the priest didn’t molest me , and he could have so easily , I was always in the confessional confessing masturbation—fear of hell because I played with it– and I was a daggone cute kid , surprised he didn’t jump on it.thanx for that Padre)…I am much better now (the lightning won , remember) but no matter how I feel intellectually and what my gut instincts tell me there will always be that fear of hell-NO MATTER WHAT I DO, just a tad always no matter what–becaus of what those bastards did to my innocent and fertile mind …As I said , I am much better now better late than never , still a life to be lived AND SOOOOO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR and a lot to look forward too. THANX

  44. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Kirsten , do you know what auto-erotic asphyxiation is? Michael Hutchence died from it , apparently ………NO, that wasn’t suicide folks, in your country I believe.

  45. Kirsten Says:

    I know exactly what it, nearly died from it a few times myself!! I bet Ignis knows all about it too…

    Glad to hear you’re so well adjusted now. Can’t imagine what you were like before. 😐
    Anyway, just remember:
    Michael loves you fine.

  46. ScottMalobisky Says:

    REM has been a very large part of my life changing past few years , the soundtrack to my resurrection , the band that I have listened to the most definitely over the last few years althugh there is plenty of other fantastc stuff–GOD KNOWS–that still really hits the spot

  47. Kirsten Says:

    Same for me in the early to mid 90’s. REM saved my life. REM ruined my life. Not sure which one it is. Either way, I’m dependant on them now like a drug.

    Do you like this song or not, Scott M? You never really made that clear.

  48. ScottMalobisky Says:

    this song is alright if Stipe was Sinatra , he’s got the eyes for the gig …..I do think in all seriousness he might end up as the next “Old Blue Eyes” -not that there’s anything wrong with that-I can see him crooning less complicated love songs as his svelte frame creeps into old age , I bet he’ll still be driven..As to Matthew’s comments on this song , I whimper , “Was it love or the idea of being in love?”..and this song certainly DID NOT excape his critical eye and wrath.

  49. 2d Says:

    scott, it seems like you may need this *a smiling pat on the back, with an encouraging and hopeful look*

  50. huub Says:

    I don’t agree qwith Matthew completely:A song like “At my most beautiful” isn’t in mystic or complex. Maybe “make it all ok” is even more straightforward, but not all other R.E.M songs are full of poetry.

  51. NN Says:

    Matthew is a dick.

    Hey Matthew, what songs have you written lately?

    The comments as usual are much better than what you write.

  52. Patrick Says:

    On first few listenings to ATS, this was the song that grabbed me first. It’s simple, it tells a story, and it carried me with it. The lyrics and music may be uncomplex, but I like to think that there can be as much art in a Picasso line drawing as in a Van Gogh canvas.

    I don’t think it’s that difficult to imagine this song on Automatic. And had it been, I don’t think it would have been called “limp and saccharine”.

    I think ATS suffers because it doesn’t work as an album. There’s too much of the same. But if you took almost every song off that album individually and put them onto other R.E.M. albums, I don’t think they would be getting the kind of canning they get as a collective.

  53. wolfy Says:

    The song reflkects 2004 very well. Pretending all was well..BUT it was not.

  54. ryan Says:

    Not to switch gears or anything, but aside from the music, another thing that I found really disappointing about Around The Sun was the packaging/artwork. It looked like it was whipped off in a day.

    I keep trying to see the beauty in it, but it just comes across as nothing more than a bunch of blurry pics of Stipe. And the type-face they used is dreadful!

    Speaking of bad photography, what’s with all the washed out portraits/concert shots Michael is putting up on his site these days? It’s like he just learned how to use Photoshop or something!

  55. The Effort Says:

    Jared, in my view, there are a few “magic moments” on this album. Like when it ends! HA HA! Ahem.

    No, no. Just off the top of my head, I would cite the wordless vocal at the end of “I Wanted To Be Wrong”; the shift from minor to major, accompanied by that backing “aaah”, on the chorus of “Boy In The Well”; and maybe the insistence that “you’re so alive” in “Aftermath”, just before the keyboard line starts descending for the chorus.

    But I totally agree with you. Not only are there precious few of those goosebump-inducing subtleties on “Around The Sun”, the wince-inducing moments that sit in the place of those goosebump-moments are plentiful. Just to keep to the song at hand: that guitar line, or sound, or whatever a more knowledgeable person would call it, after every second line of the verses in “Make It All OK” (it’s “OK” here in Canada, too) sounds like something Celine Dion might criticize for being too MOR. It is so incredibly unmagical that, for the song’s duration, it makes me doubt the existence of magic anywhere else in the world.

    It was this song more than any other that made me regretfully admit my disappointment in the album. The pure shock that the three remaining members of my favourite band thought that it wasn’t too awful to include on an album still, on weak days, shakes my faith in the 21st century R.E.M.

    Next time I’ll try to be more melodramatic.

  56. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Hey Mr.Cup, who is “that other Warner Bros. artist” you are afraid to refer to while eating your porridge?

  57. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’ve always thought Stipe photography was pretty lame. But then, visual art has never really been my think. I guess I kind of like “Reveal” if only because the photographers shadow makes a nice statement. Probably not one that was intended, but who am I to argue with the visual equivellant of reader response theory?

  58. Ignis Sol Says:

    I heard that Kristen! 🙂

  59. adam Says:

    leaving new york and ATS – both songs beautiful, chilling almost.. the rest, well ok. my 2 year old (at the time) loved Wanderlust.

  60. adam Says:

    Aftermath may indeed be the one and only song in the whole REM catalog that I can live without ever hearing again.

  61. Paul Alferink Says:

    Do you ever notice how a lot of pop and rock artist have a song that was written as two or more seperate songs and then kind of glue together to make one song? Examples include: Billy Joel’s Scene from an Italian Restuarant (Three Songs into one) Led Zepplins’s “Stairway to Heaven” (Three Songs), The Beatles “A Day in the Life” (Two Songs) or Paul McCartney and the Wings “Band on the Run” (Three Songs), Radiohead “Paranoid Andriod” (3 Songs) The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations.” (2 songs) Those are off the top of my head. REM doesn’t really have any songs like that. Kind of odd, really. I mean, “Shiny Happy” is kind of like that, with a very different intro and interlude attached to the rest of the song. But that’s what, 10 bars of the whole song? Just kind of odd that given all the songwriters in the group, none of them do that.

  62. 2d Says:

    i think “around the sun” is supposed to be stringed together from 3 different songs.

  63. Paul Alferink Says:

    I should have added that I don’t know ATS like I know the rest of the Albums. . .

  64. maclure Says:

    2d, are you talking about the song or the album?

  65. Elliot H. Says:

    Paul, doing that is called having progressive elements in your music. Not saying R.E.M. hasn’t progressed alternative music to a state it wasn’t at before, but that there’s actually a genre called “progressive rock” in which R.E.M. is definitely not a part of. Bands like Yes, King Crimson, ELP, Muse, Mars Volta, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Tool, Mastodon, and sometimes Radiohead (though they hate being included in the genre) are all progressive, and I love ’em.

    Funny, that you should mention that R.E.M. lacks progressive elements. Because before I got really into R.E.M. a few years ago, I listened almost entirely to progressive bands. I always found it a little odd that my favorite band by a mile is one that’s nothing like any other music I listen to.

    Yeah, enough of that ramble. anyway:

    Murmur: Laughing, Shaking Through, 9-9
    Reckoning: Harborcoat, Camera, Little America
    Fables: Feeling Gravitys Pull, Driver 8, Kohoutek
    Pageant: These Days, Fall on Me, Just a Touch
    Document: Welcome to the Occupation, Disturbance at the Heron House, King of Birds
    DLO/Chronic Town: Wolves Lower, 1,000,000, Carnival of Sorts
    Out of Time: Belong, Losing My Religion, Endgame
    Automatic: Monty got a Raw Deal, Star me Kitten, Find the River
    Monster: Let me In, Tongue, You

  66. Elliot H. Says:

    Oh shoot, damn enter button

    Hifi (this one was definitely the hardest for me): So Fast, So Numb, Electrolite, Low Desert (with Undertow right behind)
    Up: Hope, You’re in the Air, Daysleeper
    Reveal: Beat a Drum, Disappear, Beat a Drum
    ATS: Around the Sun, Final Straw, Ascent of Man
    Green (forgot about it): Pop Song 89, I Remember California, The Wrong Child.

  67. Paul Alferink Says:

    I like Beat a Drum and all, but taking up two slots. . . 🙂

  68. 2d Says:

    maclure, i was talking about the song! i remember reading somewhere that it’s actually been glued together out of 3 different songs peter came up with.

  69. Figgy Says:

    On the subject of separate songs glued together, I’m almost certain Peter Buck admitted in an interview that “Bittersweet Me” was a combination of 2 completely different songs the band were working on at the time.

    As for the song being discussed at the moment, I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I find the tune pleasant and think the lyrics are OK (that’s about as enthused as I can get) but other times I just hate it for all the reasons given by others on this blog. In a nutshell, I expect more from the band. This is not the kind of music that attracted me to REM in the first place.

  70. maclure Says:

    Hey 2d, I figured as much – I was sort of joking: as in REM stringing an album together on 3 parts of 1 song? Well, it isn’t very good after all…

  71. 2d Says:

    oh sorry. i have to leave the country (for fear of arrest) so naturally i didn’t catch the irony. 😉

  72. huub Says:

    @Elliot H.

    Nono, Mastodon is metal ;-). They don’t want to see it like that, but it’s definateley not ‘progressive rock’, just true metal

  73. Mr Cup Says:

    Scott M
    Think big, bland, balding and boring. This guys name is usually shorthand for ‘limp, uninspired, insipid, overproduced songwriting’.

    I dare not mention his name as it is again brekky-time for Mr Cup.

    Now, can someone explain to me: What exactly, is ‘Progressive Rock’?.

  74. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Mr. Cup , it ain’t coming to me , Man !!
    NN ..YOU ARE THE DICK !!…I guess in your mind a sportscaster or sportswriter has no right to comment on a play ‘cuz they can’t make that play themselves ?? Do you understand the concept of being a critic , writing critically ( I’m sure Matthew is well aware of his limitations in life, that doesn’t mean he can’t critique the work of a band that makes music (art) for a living in an intelligent way and I’m sure REM knows it comes with the territory..) ?? And just because you don’t agree with what he said doesn’t make him a dick , people like you are the problem with this world ……..

  75. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Michael Bolton ?

  76. Kirsten Says:

    I thought he might have meant Bono??

    I agree with NN (not that matthew is a dick) but maybe some are a little too critical, mostly of ATS. I mean, it might not be up to the standard of Murmur, but after 25 years it must be hard to come up with new sounds, new ideas. I think they do a great job and it is hard to criticise when the best thing I ever wrote isn’t even close to Wanderlust (which in my opinion is their worst song ever). Having said that, I’m sure the band don’t really give a shit what we think and they’re just going to keep doing what they’re inspired to do as always. Which is why they’re so great.

  77. jim jos Says:


    Your comparison is driving me crazy! I am usually the designated music geek who answers these type of things,
    hum a bar of a song or give me some lyrics or ask what Zeppelin album “Dancing Days” is on and I can tell you off the top of my head. Some people know baseball stats, I know musical stats more than the average joe or jane (at MY most beautiful.

    You got me stumped.

    ” Think big, bland, balding and boring. This guys name is usually shorthand for ‘limp, uninspired, insipid, overproduced songwriting” and he is on WBros?

    My first guess was Phil Collins, but he is a little guy. Definitely bald, however. Then I was thinking, Elton John, but I don’t think you could classify his entire catalog as being uninspired and insipid, his seventies stuff is classic (Tiny Dancer, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, etc). Then I thought, maybe Meatloaf. He is big (for sure) and definitely overproduced. But I don’t think ATS sounds anything like Bat Out of Hell.
    Besides, none of those guys are on WB as far as I know, however, with all the recent mergers in music isn’t everyone on the same three or four labels now?

    The clue being “his” so I am thinking not a band, which rules out Disturbed. Then I had to cheat and go to their website.
    Josh Groban matches musical description but not the physical one, dude, you have got to tell me.

  78. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I think it is Michael Boltin , “balding” , not “bald” , and the rest of the description is right on the nail, but is he with Warners ?

  79. Eclipse Says:

    I have to admit that I’ve never listened to AtS; this treacly song title is enough to make me never want to hear this song.

  80. Mario Says:

    I’m glad you finally wrote about this song, but I’m not satisfied about your chritics beacause, I love that song! It is in top 5 of songs from ATS. What I like about it is how it becomes “stronger” to the end and it ends like thriumphal- similar like The great beyond. These are my fav song from each album:
    Lifes Rich Pageant: The flowers of Guatemala, Superman, Fall On Me
    Document: It is the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine), The One I Love
    Green: Stand, Orange crush, I Remember California
    Out Of Time: Losing my religion, Near Wild Heaven, Shiny Happy People, Half a world away, Texarkana
    AFTP: Man on the moon, Everybody hurts, Sweetness follows, The sidewinder sleeps tonite, Find the river
    Monster: What’s The Frequency Kenneth?, Strange currencies
    NAIHF: Electrolite, E-bow the letter, New test leper
    Up: At my most beautiful, Daysleeper, Walk unafraid
    Reveal: Summer turns to high, Imitation of life, All the way to Reno
    Around the sun: Aftermath, Around the sun, Leaving New York, Electron blue, Make it all okay, Boy in the well, High speed train, Worst joke ever
    Extras: The lion sleeps tonight, 32 chord song, The great beyond, Love is all around

  81. Paul Alferink Says:

    Figures, I get back on here after this NN fellow gets deleted. No idea what he said. Fuck a duck.

  82. ScottMalobisky Says:

    it’s there Paul,nothing major

  83. rodh Says:

    I don’t know how you guys could come up with a list like that. 3 songs from each album? Way too hard. I think I’ll just go and buy a second iPod just for REM. That way I have them all on one convenient package. Bad songs and all.

  84. Glassmeow Says:

    So hey with 30gigs I just put the entire albums on the iPod 😀 Saves trying to pick only 3!

    But this is the song I hit the skip button for. I tried to like it but not yet.

    Anybody got that acoustic version of The One I Love handy? I don’t have that one…

  85. Phil Collins?

    Anyway, I wasn’t gonna say anything about this song. But now I’m here, sooooo… I gotta say, first of all, the other night, I was sitting on my porch thinking about how much this song sucks, and as soon as I came inside, I noticed Matthew had just posted his review! I hate to say that an R.E.M. song sucks, but… “Make It All Okay”… on many occasions, I’ve read or heard the title (nah, just “read”; I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone discussing “Make It All Okay” at the bank or produce store) and been COMPLETELY unable to recall any element of the song! And I’m a guy that can recognize a song from 15 years ago that I don’t like by hearing the bassline three rooms away.

    …yet even this song has its share of fans, so I will bear that in mind next time I listen, and try my best to pry my mind open as far as possible. I love that about this blog; so many of us are giving songs second chances, or at least finding an entirely new, exciting context in which to “see” a song. I’m actually slightly upset at the thought of Matthew running out of songs and the blog dying, LOL. I know I’m not alone. He’ll have to open it up categories for individual concerts so we can discuss live performances one by one (… 😉

    Oh, and also, as I recall, “On The Fly” was starting to remind me of this song. I hope finished version doesn’t. 🙂

  86. Whoops, Phil was already guessed. Damnit! 🙂

  87. maclure Says:

    I doubt anybody’s still reading this post but I remembered something funny today…

    “You made your own tomato too big to ignore”. That’s how I sometimes mistakenly hear the first line to MIAOK. It’s like a sister lyric to “She’s a sad tomato”.

  88. ScottMalobisky Says:

    or as Dan Quayle would say “sad tomatoe”

  89. gringomaclure Says:

    The same Dan Quayle who said that he wished he learned more Latin in school whilst on a visit to Latin America?

  90. maclure Says:

    Er, that last post was me logged in as my alter-ego.

  91. A Montreal Paul Says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of weeks, and have generally been impressed with perceptive the reviews are. This one, though, I have to take issue with. To be sure, musically this is a pretty piano ballad which may or may not be to your taste (and Michael Mills’ backing vocals are a bit cloying), but the lyrics, far from being sappily sentimental, are pretty vindictive and accusatory. And as for melolodrama, it’s nowhere near some of the many top 40 pop songs I occasionally am forced to hear in which the singer’s voice strains mightily for romantic drama, to cringeworthy effect. Stipe’s singing is pretty dry (and rather scornful) by comparison. Actually, I can relate to the feeling being expressed here – it’s: “Now I reject you as you rejected me. Didn’t you now?”. It’s not the most dignified feeling really – there is a grasp at dignity but what we actually get is vindictiveness. But it rings uncomfortably true to me.

  92. A.Ali Says:

    Yeah man, I thought this was one of the better ATS songs.

  93. Patrick Says:

    I know its enormously unlikely that anyone is going to read this, but I just heard this song again and was compelled to write something.

    In my opinion, this is hands-down the best song on this album. Far from being saccharine, I think the lyrics are superb and bear up to multiple re-examinations. There is subtlety and there is some wonderful poetry in the Biblical metahpors. The music too, is actually rich and quite beautiful.

    If this song had appeared on Automatic for the People, I bet it would have been heralded as genius. I think it’s greatest problem has nothing to do with the song, but the company in which it finds itself. (The title could also do with some work…)

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