All The Right Friends
April 22, 2008
I can’t be fair with “All The Right Friends.” It’s a competent but unremarkable bit of R.E.M. juvenilia that has been totally poisoned for me by its context. First, the song was resurrected from obscurity for the soundtrack of the utterly dire Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky. Okay, fine, whatever, it’s not as if the movie really reflects on the quality of the song either way. It was probably a favor, who cares, move on. But then, FOR SOME REASON, the band decided to include it as a track on In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003, which is a very problematic thing if you happen to take greatest hits records even a little bit seriously. First, it makes a lie of that album’s title twice over — most obviously, it’s entirely anachronistic. Not only does the song predate Murmur, its very presence among songs written much later in the band’s career is extremely jarring. Secondly, the song is plainly not the best of anything! Several excellent, highly worthy hits from the 1988-2003 period — “Bang and Blame,” “Pop Song 89,” “Turn You Inside-Out,” “Get Up,” “Drive,” the enormously popular “Shiny Happy People” — were omitted from In Time in order to make room for this totally mediocre tune that wasn’t good enough for the IRS records the first time around. It’s just ridiculous. The only real justification for pushing this song at that point in the band’s career was to make an appeal to old school fans desperate for another taste of the band back in their salad days. Otherwise, it makes no sense at all.