If Peter Buck listened to this on an aeroplane, he'd drift off to sleep.
Chris Charles 2004
Remember that favourite uncle who used to keep you entertained as a kid? Then one day you met up again and you realised he wasn't half as cool as you thought he was. With their latest offering, Around The Sun, REM have become that uncle.
Listening to Michael Stipe's soothing rhetoric is rather like popping on a pair of your favourite slippers. But as the last track of this, their thirteenth album, fades out, you can't help feeling disappointed, not to mention depressed. Stipe has made no secret about his opposition to George Bush and the war in Iraq and Around The Sun reflects his sombre mood.
Getting away from it all is a recurring theme. New single "Leaving New York" finds REM at their blissful, jangly best as Stipe considers escaping his beloved city after seeing "the light fading out", while "High Speed Train" takes him to a place where there's "No war. No hate. No past."
Lyrically they can't be faulted, but the departure of drummer Bill Berry has hit the band hard over the last two albums. This is the man, after all, who wrote the melody to "Everybody Hurts". You won't find a "Losing My Religion" or a "Orange Crush" here. But there a few great songs, enough to pour scorn on suggestions the band are a spent force.
The excellent "Wanderlust", one of the few upbeat numbers, sees REM do Britpop - albeit 10 years too late - and once you've heard "Electron Blue", the chorus will be spinnng around your head for days. There's even another dabble in hip hop, 13 years after KRS-One's appearance on "Radio Song", as Q-Tip collaborates on "The Outsiders", reminding you just how good A Tribe Called Quest were.
The trouble is, there's too many songs that float around without actually going anywhere. By the time you've thought about what you're going to have for dinner, three tracks have flown by without you realising. If Peter Buck listened to this on an aeroplane, he'd drift off to sleep.