April 3, 2008

“Animal” is a rare and precious thing: A hard rocking R.E.M. song written and recorded after the departure of Bill Berry in 1997, and before the Accelerate sessions in 2007.  Of course, it’s not exactly a conventional rocker — though it gets nice and crunchy on the chorus, most of the song is a cosmic haze carried by a lead guitar hook that somewhat resembles the piano part from “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream.” Lyrically and musically, it’s the closest the band have come to straight-up sci-fi — as  Michael Stipe ponders the future, messages from alien visitors, and the 4th dimension,  the band evoke the feeling of hurtling through time and space, and vibrating at the speed of light. It’s a strange, delirious tune that seems to delight in its own awe and confusion. It’s pretty funny, too — when faced with the promise of truth and salvation via divine/alien intervention, Stipe simply utters a deadpan, Keanu-esque “…whoa!”

41 Responses to “Animal”

  1. Brian Says:

    You’re dead on with the “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” comparison.

    Along with “Bad Day,” Animal was a nice addition to the In Time collection. I think the version on the Live album is quite good too.

    Wouldn’t mind hearing it on tour this summer!

  2. ADB Says:

    Well it made for the best t-shirt in my wardrobe, if nothing else…

  3. Ben Says:

    This song is a mystery to me. It’s really fuckin’ good (so good it makes me curse), but what mystifies me is how in the span of just one year the band went from making kick-ass Negative Zone rock songs (geek points if you get the reference) like Animal to the somber, overly-sterilized Around The Sun. Maybe the problem is that whenever R.E.M. releases one-off songs between albums I always look to them for clues as to what to expect on the next full album. That might be unfair, but when Reveal followed up on the tone and production of The Great Beyond, I was expecting something similar from ATS after hearing Animal.

    And what’s this about a version on the Live album? Is there a download I missed or something?

  4. Ha, I like the Negative Zone reference. This is kinda like a Lee/Kirby pop song!

  5. maclure Says:

    Never went for this song, particularly. It’s OK, I suppose. I would put “Sing for the Submarine” in the bracket of REM sci-fi songs. According to the interview MS gave with one of the bazillion links I read on remhq Sing for the Submarine has a specific story about a boy who escapes in a submarine in an apocalyptic future.

  6. Brian Says:


    You’re right – I meant the Perfect Square DVD. I ripped it to MP3s so I confused it during a shuffle of live R.E.M.

  7. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’ve always thought this song was weak. It really sounds like it was only half written. At least Bad Day, for all it’s other problems, had moment. Animal doesn’t.

  8. Kirsten Says:

    I love Animal. Should’ve been included on a real album, but I understand how it definately wouldn’t fit on ATS. So many great lines.
    ADB – is that the “I’m vibrating at the speed of light” T-shirt? I have that and LOVE IT!
    Along with that line, we have the “whoa”‘s and the “Tourist in the 4th demention” line – fantastic!
    Plus it rocks. When I heard Supernatural Superserious I was pleased to hear the return of this sort of music from the boys.

    Never pick up on the I Don’t Sleep, I Dream similarity. Good Point Matthew, I can hear that.

  9. Jerad Says:

    I’ve never liked this one too much. It does rock, but it sounds like they’re trying too hard to make it rock, unlike how effortlessly they’re putting out real rock songs on Accelerate. Maybe that’s an unfair comparison since Animal really could be a leftover from the Monster sessions. Maybe I would like it better if it had been introduced on stage on the Monster tour. It would’ve fit there.

  10. Mr Cup Says:

    I think it was around this time (and with Bad Day) that I thought they couldn’t write rock songs anymore. Well not in a way that distanced themselves from the crowd.

  11. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow, a little surprised at how popular this song is. One of my least fave things ever recorded by the boys. Fuzzy and droning, but not in a good way. I remember being very relieved upon hearing ATS that it did NOT sound like Animal.

  12. Frank in PHX Says:

    I really like Animal, the live version. I remember hearing it on the 3 stops I saw them on the LUV tour in 2003 and anxiously waiting to hear the song in recorded form, only to find it slowed down and overproduced. Just to remind myself, just listened to the a live boot from Indianapolis in ’04 and the In Time version back-to-back. 1) The live version is so much better, raw and rocking. 2) I had completely forgotten about it since Around the Sun came out, so thank you for reminding me about it.

  13. Rob Says:

    Sorry, Beethoven, but this is one of my favourite post-Up pre-Accelerate sings the guys have done. The version released as a single I think rocks even harder, and yes I love and own the t-shirt. I am vibrating at the speed of light, indeed.

  14. Clare Says:

    Don’t like this song at all. As has been mentioned earlier I think it looks like they are trying too hard to be “loud” again after Up had all the flak for being “quiet”. Personally if they can’t do “loud” effectively & effortlessly (as they have done so fantastically with this new album) then I prefer them to be “quiet”.
    I always skip this song on any concert footage, don’t like to hear Michael screeching & straining his voice for little reward or….tune. (sorry folks)

    Matthew I am not getting the I Don’t Sleep connection, I love that song. Will have to force myself to listen to Animal (which I have never done all way through actually) to see if I can identify.

  15. Mario Says:

    To me this is one of the best songs. After a time a realized i dislike Bad day cause it is so annoying hearing it on the radio over and over. On the other hand, this song is much underpreciated. I really love it. It was on the radio on my 19th birthday last autumn so since than i like it even more. I’m glad Accelerate sounds like Animal.

  16. Piotrek Says:

    the intro is “Tomorrow Never Knows” rip-off

  17. Andrew Says:

    I like Animal a lot and if anyone can tell me what Mike Mills is singing in the background, it would fill a hole in my lyrical library that has been sitting around for ages.

    Also, — what T-shirt — ?

  18. Bruno Says:

    Animal’s not one of my favorites but..

    Good to hear some fun stuff on Accelerate. Is it nostalgia or does it just sound great? Peter’s doing the distorted arpeggios, Mike’s doing back-up. It’s fun to hear again. Some energy from the boys.

    Hollow Man’s chorus grabbed me big time (I’m a sucker for the Byrds thing). And Michael sounding a little gruff instead of polished.

    I have this feeling there’s some second guessing going on, but you can’t hold it against them after all this time.

    I say let em make noise and if there’s a bit of a tip of the hat to the past maybe that’s also a way for baldy and the twins to step into the future. Thumbs up.

  19. Matt Says:

    This always sounded to me like they took a stab at recapturing their MONSTER/HIFI-era sound and came off seeming very forced. The production is fussy and overly dense, trying to make up for extremely weak songwriting. Stipe’s lyrics are distractingly boneheaded and the melody is non-existant. The only hooks here come from Mills’ vocals and Buck’s trance-like riff, but it’s hard to enjoy them in the context. This may be what ACCELERATE would have sounded like had they kept Pat McCarthy on board. Thankfully they’ve moved on. Along with most of AROUND THE SUN, I consider this one of R.E.M.’s songs best left forgotten.

  20. jim jos Says:

    always thought this was kind of a stab at them writing “Tomorrow Never Knows”, a song that I know Stipe didn’t hear until well into the band’s career, but stated that he liked when he heard it. He asked Peter who it was and Peter was like “errr its the Beatles, it’s on Revolver” That must have been an interesting moment for the band. Peter of the 50000 record collection, and Michael not knowing one of the key tracks to perhaps the most critically acclaimed album of all time.

    Not a bad lyric from Stipe. He seems, in part, to be taking the character of New Test Leper, who proclaimed “I am not an animal” and spinning it around as a positive to say “well, I am an animal, you should partially expect me to be selfish and cruel at times” What’s the big deal? Don’t tell me how to feel.
    Doesn’t really work for me, I think mainly because the melody and music do not really jive. Key example of where the band may have been at the time. One wants to play a song like that, one is writing a top line like this. Both are good, but together they are not on the same page.

    Also, that it is on the best of instantly sets it up for standards that would make it tough to compare with. Even if that Warners best of is such a botch job for anyone who isn’t merely into the band at the lowest levels.

  21. profligateprofiterole Says:

    an indusrial neon cathderal lofts
    the liquid sky in Algiers
    the chic suburbanite sitting in his rooftop world
    talking to his friend somewhere in Dusseldorf
    they are discussing the enigma of crop circles
    they are waiting for the sun

  22. profligateprofiterole Says:

    jj, always read the “Hey, what’s the big deal ? I’m an animal”….. as a reference to innate and instinctual sexual desires , “Shit ,Man ,of course I’m a freakin horn dog , I’m an animal . What did you expect?..”

    Great call on the Tomorrow Never Knows

  23. jim jos Says:

    yeah, scott, I agree with that too!

    “turn off your mind, relax, and float down stream”
    Once read that Lennon wanted chanting monks on that song. How interesting would that have been?

    speaking of desires, I met a girl last week (wish I really would have met her, if you know what I mean) and I couldn’t get the “I’ll settle for a cup of coffee, but you know what I really need” out of my mind.

    Kind of ties in the “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” comments by Matthew as well as his own story of Chance a few months back.

    No? It doesn’t? Ok, then.

  24. jim jos Says:

    “waiting for the sun, waiting for the sun, waiting for the sun”

  25. jim jos Says:

    “welcome the ugly animal”

    — Circus Envy

  26. Aerothorn Says:

    Someone called me an animal (or something like that) the other day, and it was a wonderful opportunity to belt this out. Great song – certainly better then anything on ATS, and I even like this better than Bad Day.

  27. profligateprofiterole Says:

    three best songs on the new record :
    Man-Sized Wreath

  28. Elliot Says:

    Why the hell is Redhead Walking not on Accelerate? The song is TOO cool.

    “WOOOOOOOOOOW!!!!…Ow, that hurt. OH…”

  29. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    See, my three would be Houston, Living Well Is The Best Revenge, and Mr. Richards. Still like the whole damn CD though except Hollow Man – no matter how I try it just seems blah. I also sort of think its a shame Until The Day Is Done was given to be used by CNN as while I think it is just a middle of the road song on the album, I think it could have been a successful radio single, but unlikely to be released now.

  30. jim jos Says:

    Sing For the Submarine, Living Well Is the Best Revenge, Man-Sized Wreath.

    mark of a great album, many different people will pick entirely different songs.

  31. Dark Bob Says:

    Accelerate / Living well’s… / Houston.

    The more I listen to this cd the more I like it.

  32. milesy Says:

    Living Well/ Horse to Water/ Until the Day.
    For today at least…

  33. profligateprofiterole Says:

    check out the Colbert Report interview , it’s really funny

    (the future and the truth on my rooftop world –whoa)

  34. milesy Says:

    Context is significant, it seems to me.

    Sing for the Submarine:
    The vocal sounds like ATS (specifically The Worst Joke Ever).
    The guitar melody sounds like something from Reveal (can’t quite place what exactly).
    I’m not trying to cause trouble. I’m just saying.

  35. profligateprofiterole Says:

    rabble rouser

  36. profligateprofiterole Says:

    that’s demagoguery

  37. Mario Says:

    OK, I see you’re all impressed by Accelerate. So am I and must say that may absolute favorite song from Accelerate is Accelerate. It’s just so perfect song.

  38. ADB Says:

    Yep, it’s the ‘I’m Vibrating At The Speed Of Light’ t-shirt I was referring to, and it is my favourite thing about this song. Not that I don’t like it, particularly, but the production is a bit of a mess, and the deep voiced backing vocal really bugs me. And this is on the Best Of, and Drive isn’t…

  39. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Sing For The Submarine — to answer your conjecture there, milesy– the guitar (at the beginning especially) reminds one of Dissappear……yes ?

  40. Kirsten Says:

    When I’ve got Accelerate stuck in my head it seems to morph into Walk Unafraid. Not sure why, will have to learn more words to stop that from happening.

  41. Paul Alferink Says:

    Does anyone else thing that Mills and Buck sound more like they’re playing for the Hindu Love God’s again? Stipe seems to be channeling a bit of that, too, especially in Man Size Wreath and Red Head Walking.

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