Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stop and Smell the Roses

R.E.M.'s new single, Mine Smell Like Honey, is now available on iTunes. As usual, my sparring partner Eric is up in arms. Let's see if we can talk him off the *(&?!*%^@#( ledge already.

Dear Eric,

Usually, your monologues are a monument to ignorance and illiteracy. This time, while those traits are present as usual, your commentary takes on a new quality: desperation.

You seem to want, so terribly, for me to tell you that you're wrong, that Mine Smells Like Honey is indeed classic R.E.M., that the band is on top of its game, that Stipe & Co. still represent the very pinnacle of rock and roll. You compare Collapse Into Now to the latest record by Arcade Fire, an A-list band in its prime, and you wonder why Arcade Fire's songs sound better to you than R.E.M.'s new ones do.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but you're absolutely right. Arcade Fire is a better band than R.E.M. is right now. I feel like a broken record on this, and perhaps I am, but The Suburbs is Arcade Fire's third record. Collapse Into Now is R.E.M.'s 15th. There simply is no real basis for comparison between the two, and holding one up to the other is sheer madness. You're dooming yourself to disappointment and despair -- but to what purpose?

What do you gain by holding R.E.M. to such an impossible standard? Moreover, why does R.E.M. have to be the best, most important band in the world for you to love them? You've discussed on Facebook the possibility of shutting down your site -- a site devoted as much to the early history of the band as is it dedicated to the present -- because the band's recent output no longer thrills you like it did 20 years ago. But I think you owe it to yourself to relax your standards a bit. Imagine listening to the new songs and finding joy in them instead of disappointment. When I listen to Mine Smell Like Honey, I'm not anticipating the sudden realization that Collapse Into Now is gonna end up as the 2011 Matty Album of the Year. It's Arcade Fire's turn to vie for such honors. And yet I can still put new R.E.M. on and feel good about it. The new record isn't the be all and end all of my music collection -- nor does it need to be.

As much as you might want me to, I can't convince you that the new songs are good and I can't force you to like them. I'm a pretty stingy, stubborn critic myself. But in my initial disgust over Around the Sun, I realized in horror that my worst fears had come true -- R.E.M. was no longer truly relevant. At first I was angry, bitter, resentful -- and all around a pretty miserable son of a bitch on certain message boards. But, as the weeks and months passed, I came to terms with it -- and, like many things in life, the worrying was far worse than the reality. I've since found new artists to take R.E.M.'s place on the pedestal, and ever since, I've been perfectly fine winning small battles with the band, without worrying about the greater war.

In other words, a new R.E.M. record doesn't need to be Monster. I'll never be 16 again, and R.E.M. will never be 14. And that's okay.

At the same time, I feel reasonably confident, if not wholly convinced, that there is no way in hell Arcade Fire's 15th album will be as good as R.E.M.'s 15th. In fact I'd consider it a worthwhile wager that Arcade Fire will never even release a 15th record. You may consider that a good thing, but I disagree. I'd much rather have a decent bunch of songs to look forward to -- I've been playing the tracks from Collapse Into Now nonstop for weeks, singing along like I actually was 16 again -- and the new set of happy memories that go along with them, than be limited to their no-less brilliant back catalogue.

For this reason among others, I consider myself fortunate to be an R.E.M. fan. I think if you accepted reality, you'd feel fortunate too.


Anonymous said...

Matt-Eric 10-0

I simply don't think there's anything they could have released that would have satisfied Eric at this point. Also, he's tied himself up so hard on this negative approach he could never be positive without a LOT of humbleness. So, ain't gonna happen...

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric, try ƜBERLIN

best R.E.M. song for me since The Great Beyond. And among my top 10 in all their catalog.

Ivana said...

Excellent response Matt, spot on!

As for R.E.M.'s own reasons for still putting out new records, here's what Mr Mills recently said:

"The thrill of being in a band is writing a new song, rehearsing it with the guys and having it become something new and exciting. At the point you’re not doing that anymore, you can either quit or become a jukebox band, a greatest hits band. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just never a direction in which we’ve wanted to go."

Anonymous said...

Go fuck yourself, Maroney!

Auctioneer said...

It's a shame to be having such a large argument about one album. I agree with Matt and Ivana, and personally I'm glad that R.E.M. are still going at all. Maybe their newer stuff isn't as "fresh" as the things they did in the 80s, but I still really like all the new songs I've heard so far, and "It Happened Today" may just be my favourite track of all time.

I've read all your posts to one another, and I'd like to suggest you guys stop this before you try to tear one another apart. Let's remember, this is music we're talking about, not a life-and-death issue!

Yours truly,

P.S. I very much like your blog. I've been following it for a while now, and I enjoy reading your reviews. :) Keep it up!