Around The Sun

April 5, 2008

“Around The Sun” is the first title track of R.E.M.’s career, but ironically, it’s not particularly representative of the album that bears its name. Whereas much of the Around The Sun album leans on adult contemporary balladry and synthetic gloss, “Around The Sun” the song comes off like a hybrid of the folksy jangle of  the band’s IRS period and the solemn beauty of Automatic For The People.  It’s one of the few unqualified successes on the record; a number that allows the band to play to some of their greatest strengths as songwriters and as musicians. If much of the problem with Around The Sun comes down to the group overworking their material out of a fear of repeating themselves, this song shows just how unnecessary it is for them to be anything but themselves. It also goes to show how that impulse can lead to self-sabotage — there’s a moment halfway through “Around The Sun” where the tune could either get bigger, like “Man On The Moon,” or sorta drift away into a gentle reverie. They opt for the latter, and though it’s definitely quite lovely, it’s hard not to get the feeling that they deliberately kept the song from reaching its full potential.

48 Responses to “Around The Sun”

  1. Ignis Sol Says:

    As I completed yet another trip around the sun yesterday, the subtle reverie of “Around the Sun” is poignant and sweet. I love the opening lyrics.

  2. Justin Says:

    This is one of the better songs on ATS, for sure. I love anything with tympani on it. Somehow the stilted production didn’t seem to ruin much of this song, and it has that lovely coda. I never really gave the song much notice until I saw it on a John Kerry documentary; taken out of context of the album I came to appreciate it more.

  3. profligateprofiterole Says:

    such a hymn to optimism ,always leaves me feeling good about things, and that lovely fade away…

  4. milesy Says:

    This is a highpoint on an album that I have always loved. The call to ‘hold on to this boy a little longer’ is so vulnerable, set against the almost defiant ‘hold on world cos you don’t know what’s coming’: it’s a poignant reflection on the creeping sense of mortality from someone who has maybe reached the age where he’s far from ready to throw in the towel, but neither can deny that he’s not as young as he once was.

    There’s always been added interest for this Christian in the way that ‘I want the truth to set me free’ echoes John 8:32, especially as ‘I wish the followers would lead’ reminds me of the previous verse, on being a disciple/follower. And, despite the fact that I know this is probably nothing to do with what Michael meant, it’s always found an echo in me, as I reflect on how Jesus’ followers, myself included, have often struggled to offer the kind of leadership that might suggest we have been set free by the truth.

    Well, that’s what I read into this text… My guess is that it’s not what most people find; but maybe it’s this quality of being so open to the interpretation of each listener which makes REM songs so rewarding. I’ll take another few trips around the sun with them, I hope.

  5. maclure Says:

    Interesting ideas from Milsey and all above… makes me think I should give this song another chance. I first heard it prior to the release of ATS and was so expectantly excited for some new REM material that perhaps it was natural I felt it dissapointed considerably. Nice chords in the verse and chorus and some great lyrics -its the timp, drums and sort of drifting away (as MP said) that got me. The song, like REM on this album, started with some good ideas but wandered away into a bit of a fog.

    I only just realised the lyrics provide an odd foreshadowing of Accelerate’s themes. Hold onto this world spinning out of control – and on the next circuit this is what we get: a world out of control, accelerating too fast where holding on becomes increasingly difficult…

  6. This is one of my least favourite REM songs ever. It’s the cliche of the lyrics; ‘let my dreams set me free; believe’ just sounds so knocked-off as a placeholder. It’s sluggish and, like you said, doesn’t live up to it’s potential as an album closer. For me, this and High Speed Train and the two songs that crush Around The Sun.

  7. Imitation of Life Says:

    It’s OK, but being the first R.E.M. title track is just about the only thing that really distinguishes it. Mid-table for its namesake album.

  8. jft Says:

    wow, I didn’t think this song is thought to be one of the better ones on ATS by the most of you.

    next to Wanderlust, this might be my least favourite from ATS, and easily a bottom 10 R.E.M.-song. well, I just don’t like it – the melody is quite boring and not interesting at all, while there’s something interesting even in “The Worst Joke Ever”, this one to me just seems like a throwaway mellow pop song I haven’t listened to in quite some time. some minutes ago, I tried, and it still didn’t work at all. well, no offence to you who like it 🙂

  9. Ben Says:

    This is one of my favorites, probably even in the top 10. I love literally everything about this song, especially the bit of studio wizardry at the 3:18 mark that leads into the mind-blowingly gorgeous coda.

    On a personal note, this song didn’t really connect with me until after the 2004 election, one of the most depressing periods of my life. I was so full of optimism and hope that my countrymen would make the right choice that when they went the other way it was crushing. The very first time I saw R.E.M. in concert was less than two weeks before the election and “Around The Sun” was the song they opened with. The lyric “I wish the followers would lead” was especially poignant that night, and even though things didn’t turn out that way (at least not yet…) those words along with the song’s request of the world to “hold on, because you don’t know what’s coming” took on an entirely new and important meaning in the following weeks and months, and eventually, years.

    God, I really really love this song.

  10. jim jos Says:

    “take another trip around the sun”
    to me this song says, don’t give up on life, you do not know what next for you, stick around for another year or so and you might really come across a place that feels good for you.
    I remember feeling so badly one time and this song came on and it really clicked and jumped out at me. I was like “oh, ok, I’ll take you up on that one, Michael, we’ll see what the next year will bring”

    a good “pep talk song” that I like most when I think if it in individual terms. Because of the sentiment of that one line, prob my favorite off the whole record.

    on a purely musical note, it would be okay if they tried a live version of this song and gave it a Reckoning style jangle. I think it could really work that way.

    happy b-day ignis.
    happy b-day R.E.M. (Matthew another moment of genius to put this song on R.E.M’s 28th…

  11. Mr Cup Says:

    I’ve always found this to be one of the more enjoyable songs on the album. Agree with MP this song is more a kite on a string than a free bird.

  12. Paul Alferink Says:

    I would like this song more if I listened to this album more. As most of the album is really bad, the not- bad songs so get over looked. Heck, I’m sure if I listened to it like I’m spinning Accerlate right now, I grow to love this song. Funny how that works.

  13. Andy T. Says:

    I’ve been waiting for this song since the beginning of this blog! With every REM album there is always one song that grabs me in some way from the get-go, and this was the one from this album for me. It just had a hook that I liked, and the anti-suicide theme that jim-jos mentioned above “live another year…” was immediately apparent to me. There was a time when I’d play this song over and over again. It’s one tune from ATS that I’ve never got tired of.

    I also liked how they did as Matthew said, and instead of ramping up the song at the end, instead decided to change directions in a very nice coda. It’s up there with Find the River with me as a favorite album closer – and it’s theme of journeying through life connect with strongly with AFTP with me in a way that I’d hoped the whole album would have (but alas, did not)

    I have a couple of technical comments on the song – first, simply – I liked like Mike’s bass line. And… being a long-time fan of the old analog sample keyboard the Mellotron – (due to being a Moody Blues/Mike Pinder fan) – I’ve always wondered if the background “organ” music used in the coda at the end of the song was generated on one. I know that they’ve used the Mellotron on one or two previous albums, and I read somewhere that Peter acquired one at some point. It’s probably just some other treated keyboard or organ, but it’s always sounded like one to me.

  14. 2d Says:

    while i appreciate the quasi-progressive structure of the song, and like its “i’ve been high”-esque gentle emotion, the “around the suuuuun”s absolutely kill this song for me. sorry, i just think it’s the worst vocal michael has ever recorded, ever. i always cringe when i hear it and, sadly, it’s so bad it’s all i can think of when talking about this song. if the “bridge” were vocal-free i would have rated this track much higher and may have even loved it. but like this, i place it in my bottom 5 r.e.m. tracks (out of which 3 of them are on “around the sun”)… especially because it’s a closer (and it’s a real shame about that lovely coda), and because it has an album named after it…

    too bad for the music, which is actually quite nice.

  15. Kirsten Says:

    I love this song. I would love this song if it was on any of their CDs. It’s positive and full of strength.
    I’m not very good with words, so I’m not sure if my meaning’s going to get across or not. Probably doesn’t matter ’cause I think most of what I say doesn’t make any sence anyway! 🙂 It’s the “Hold on world ’cause you don’t know what’s coming/Hold on world ’cause I’m not jumping off” – I’m stronger than this, I’m not giving up and I’m ready to fight, I’m not ready to die. Followed by “hold on to this boy a little longer/take another trip around the sun” – I’m trying to be stong, but I’m faking it – I need help. Give me a chance.

    The ending is a peaceful, reflecting acceptance.

  16. Kirsten Says:

    Also, last week I discovered a song called “Fascinating” left off Reveal. It’s a great song and should’ve (IMO) been added. I can’t help but think if they had added this song, then taken Reveal and ATS and turned them into 3 shorter albums they may have been more widely appreciated. I love Reveal and a lot of ATS, but agree as full albums to listen to from start to finish are very long and same-ish. Broken up into 3 albums would’ve done these songs justice (and they could’ve added this new one that I love).

  17. Clare Says:

    Still think this album got an unjust rap. I also can’t help feeling as much as I love the new album & it was time for a change/ different approach etc, that the band were forced into delvering a loud, guitar driven sound again. Like the critics were going to give them one last chance to produce what they were demanding of them before they were thrown onto the “once great but past it” heap.

    I’m glad they are getting all the acclaim….number 1 in Britain, yay!…. but in my opinion there is quiet, understated quality on the 3 albums before this.

    I too love the notion of hope & encouragement on Around the Sun, the gently melody & soothing lyrics act like a wipe of the brow & I think it is one of the best closing songs on any of their albums.

  18. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    Matthew – your insight never ceases to amaze: “overworking their material out of a fear of repeating themselves”. That makes so much sense. My initial impressions of Accelerate is that they’ve partly dropped that weight of self-expectation, and are more comfortable doing what they know they do well. THe whole album sounds easy (and still not unoriginal)

  19. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    As I have said many times, I agree that ATS was not their best album, but I like it much better than most of you seem to (and much better than Reveal), and one of the highlights of this album is the track “Around The Sun”. As MP says, it does seem to avoid the overproduction of most of the rest of the album and does seem like a cousin of Man On The Moon and The Great Beyond both lyrically and musically. Around The Sun (the song) is right up there with “Descent of Man” and “Aftermath” and “Electron Blue” as a song that could be included on any other REM album and meet standards. Love the building climax of the song and the “don’t give up hope” lyrics. Also, Milesy, I hear the Biblical references as well, and they may be intended, Mr. Stipe has used religious imagery and themes (even in a positive way) many times before.

  20. Paul Alferink Says:

    Just a side note:

    I heard “Supernatural, Superserious” on This Week in Baseball. I don’t think I’ve heard such a casual drop of an REM song since NAIHF, or maybe even Monster. That’s good.

    I also heard REM’s “Draggin the Line” in the Super Market just now. That’s just weird.

  21. adam Says:

    one of the best songs of thier career… so good, it kind of redeems the whole record for me.. there was that period where they opened shows with this.. which was haunting genius. this song always grabs me.. I never tire of it.. I love Acclerate for what it is.. a great, fast rock n roll record.. but this is the kind of REM song the new record actually lacks and needs.

  22. dave g. Says:

    I’d say “Around the Sun” is the best song on its parent album by a long shot, and yet, like every other song on that record, is crying out for a remix, or a decent drum track.

    But it’s great little tune, evidenced by the fact that they opened a bunch of gigs with it if I correctly recall. Very Green.

  23. adam Says:

    Peter played drums on this, correct? and yes.. the bass kind of makes this one doesnt it?

  24. Ignis Sol Says:

    Kirsten, your words are perfect and you do make sense. You offer a very apt description of “Around the Sun”. I agree with you about the “reflecting acceptance” ending of it.
    This song’s gentle might of sheer optimism is exquisite.

  25. profligateprofiterole Says:

    BWD, was that a joke ‘Descent Of Man’ ? did you mean to do that ?

    descent of some men indeed
    to unheard of depths of depravity

  26. profligateprofiterole Says:

    is it just me or do others out there jump in the air and do a big ‘O’ thing with thier arms while singing Man Sized Wreath, sorta like the YMCA dance?

  27. profligateprofiterole Says:

    is MP gonna throw us a knuckler, a song from the new record ? that’s alright, I can hit the knuckler

  28. profligateprofiterole Says:

    “the verdict is dire
    the country’s in ruins”

    that’s a bit harsh

  29. Benjamin Says:

    I can definitely pick up on the AFTP influence, and see that they did keep it down. At least the album ends on a good note.

  30. maclure Says:

    I’m thinking of formally petitioning MP to review the new album in its entirety on popsongs when all the other albums are finished. I reckon we all have a lot to say about it. I can’t say I do a big “o” thing with my arms, but Man-Sized Wreath has me out of my seat and bopping like nobodies business…

  31. maclure Says:

    er, that should be “nobody’s business”…

  32. beonetraveler Says:

    I guess I’m one of those fans that I’ve read about in other places in this blog. Namely, that I’ve been among those whose …fan-dom began to wane during and following Monster. I haven’t wanted to admit it because I had spent so much time trying to decipher the soup and fog of Michael’s pre-Automatic lyrics. The combination of life, marriage, kids, work meant that I was paying less attention to all kinds of things.

    Long story longer, “Around the Sun” became my favorite track on the then-new disc. It was this tune that prompted me to go back and give Up and Reveal another try. I’m glad I did.

    So, I dig the intensity of Michael’s urging to “hold on to this boy a little longer.” As a father, I hear in the line an admonition to cherish my sons–the noise, skinned knees, sleepovers, camping trips, mud pies–before they take off on their own journey. (I know, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…”) This is one of the song’s subtexts for me.

  33. milesy Says:

    @Paul A: Draggin the Line in the supermarket is indeed weird; but it’s one of my favourite REM b-sides of all time. And now I’ve thought of it, I can’t get that catchy, insistent recurring, ‘beep beep’ out of my head…

  34. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:


    Yeah, I really like “Descent of Man” – I love the cheesy, over the top “Yeah, yeah, yeah . . .” – it especially clicked for me once I heard the live version which has more power. I just love the low (almost mumbled) background singing running under Michael’s empassioned Yeahs.

  35. profligateprofiterole Says:

    but it’s ASCENT Of Man, are you joking ? are you aware of what you’re saying? that’s my question….

  36. milesy Says:

    Stipe, I take it, is punning on Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’.

  37. Rob Says:

    Descent of Man?? Is that a metaphor for impotence??

  38. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Sorry, I’m an idiot, I’ve got to quit using crack for breakfast. Of course, it’s ASCENT, maybe its a freudian slip.

  39. Mr Cup Says:

    If I wrote a book it would be called ‘life and how to ascend it’.

  40. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Life And How To Avoid It

  41. profligateprofiterole Says:

    I mean , shit, Lazarus didn’t ASK to be resurrected or anything…….:)

  42. maclure Says:

    Where’s Scott Malobisky these days? I feel he would have something to add this thread which is now descending into the surreal… I have a blog called “Maps and Legends” but I think my biography should be called “Good Advices” about good things other people have said to me… or perhaps, “King of Comedy” except I wasn’t really the class joker. Actually, “Find the River” or “Near Wild Heaven” would be excellent titles for books.

    Anyway, my surreal supermarket moment came today when (this is true) for the first time that I can remember since living in Brazil an REM song got piped across the aisles. It was, surprise surprise, Losing my Religion. But halfway through it seemed to get stuck and repeat the end of a chorus and I couldn’t make out the words properly. Then the song stopped altogether and a new, dance song started. Then about a minute later back came Michael’s singing – it was only then that I realised I was hearing a remix of LMR, a remix I had never heard before! Almost as odd as hearing the (excellent in my opinion) Draggin the Line in a supermarket.

  43. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Losing My Religion remixed? Hmmmm…

    Then again, I really like a few of the REMixes for Reveal. Are those still available somewhere online?

  44. milesy Says:

    I suspect Bisky may be nearer than you think…

  45. Patrick Says:

    There is actually a book called “Gardening at Night” written by a South African author called Diane Awerbuck. I’m sure you can find it on Amazon.

  46. profligateprofiterole Says:

    I’m with you , my brother.

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