Album Reviews: Around the Sun by R.E.M.Bittersweet, melancholy, and sedate were never words that would have first come to mind in the early days of R.E.M.. But for better or worse, they paint an accurate picture of where this great band is now. Forget expecting the old jangle-pop tunesmiths to return. You can see that version of R.E.M. live. On record they are still in their post-Bill Berry phase, which began with their excellent, oft-overlooked (and sometimes maligned) release, Up.
Half of their latest release, Around the Sun, is really good. “Leaving New York” could be read as the first post-9/11 song that actually suggests getting out of the city for a while instead of championing it. It’s an apparent love song to NYC, but one which admits that it can be hard to be there, yet hard to give it up, too. “Electron Blue” has some nice downtempo electronic flourishes. “The Outsiders” even features rapper Q-Tip in a familiar callback to the guest appearance by KRS-One on “Radio Song” from Out of Time.
The middle of the album bogs down a bit, like the soft belly many of R.E.M.'s old fans have acquired over the years (this reviewer included). Fortunately, Around the Sun rotates back in the right direction with “Aftermath,” the most winning track, and “The Ascent of Man." One wonders if Peter Buck is truly fulfilled by the muted guitar work featured on this production, but maybe The Minus 5 gives him a chance to vent.
Overall, Around the Sun is a pleasing enough listen, as long as you’re not expecting a trip back to R.E.M.'s past. - Jeff Kamin
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