April 27, 2008
Though I will always remain baffled by the band’s decision to leave “It’s A Free World, Baby” in non-album limbo, it’s not all that hard to understand why “Fretless” was discarded despite its obvious quality. The problem of “Fretless” is that while it is exceptionally good at evoking this potent, heartbreaking melodrama, it just seems so maudlin in the context of other R.E.M. songs, particularly those on Out Of Time. If it was going to work anywhere, it’d be Automatic For The People, but as far as songs about familial dissolution go, “Sweetness Follows” is far more successful, in part because it doesn’t seem to be actively tugging on the listener’s heart strings. Interestingly, “Fretless” may be the saddest song to ever feature a vocal performance by Kate Pierson — she sounds atypically cold and distant, but she ought to given that she’s standing in for the voice of the mother in this broken family.