I really don't know how to express this post... an exercise in thought? Plus a review of R.E.M. in concert!
I've given thought lately about the number of people who say that X band has passed their prime already. Noticably, these people usually refer to bands that have been around for quite some time. Also more noticably, these people always clamor for a return to the good ol' days, and I find myself hearing more often then not: "Why can't they make music like they used to? Remember Y album, now THAT was a great album..."
And then I began to think, maybe it isn't bands that pass their prime, rather, it's the listeners who pass their prime. Bands aren't artificial; they're very much alive. The Fixx, whose first album Shuttered Room was released in the early '80s (think of Talking Heads smashing into The Police) recently released their first studio album (Want that Life) after a substantial hiatus. A smattering of the reviews are positive, but mostly they are stunning negative. And as expected, most of these negative reviews were people whining about how their band had gone astray; why couldn't they play like they used to play? Remember Shuttered Room and Reach the Beach? Now THAT was a great album. What happened to them?
Perhaps the better question is what happened to you?
For those long standing fans of The Fixx, I can understand why they would be disappointed with the new album, considering if all they wanted was a rehash of earlier material. Granted, I didn't think the album was anything extraordinary; frankly, it was just decent - not bad, not great.
Want that Life is very mature compared to their early work, as is usually the case with most bands. In fact, in a recent interview with R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, he is referred to as saying that most of the band's earliest songs were simply experimentations with learning how to play together as a band. Funny how those R.E.M. songs that most people view (and listen!) with such admiration and would definitely label as classics, Stipe views them as products of inexperience and naivety -the songs but tools in a learning curve. I suppose then that the disparity of the situation is readily revealed - fans eagerly anticipating for R.E.M. to release something similar to their early days (a return to form), and R.E.M. using their knowledge and history of those earlier experimentations to push their sound forward rather then backward.
The new R.E.M. album was as expected, received less then wholeheartedly in the U.S. The climate here is different in the world of music, and R.E.M. have never been concurrent with the mainstream in this respect. Couple that with the negativity thrown down even by the most hardcore of R.E.M. fans crying for a return to Automatic for the People, and I don't even see why anyone would be surprised that the album is not selling well here. People hold too many expectations of bands that have been around for a while, not realizing that the band is still doing what it did in the past. Imagine if people around the time Document was released began to wish that R.E.M. would just go back to their roots and make an album like Murmur. Would Out of Time or Automatic for the People have even been made? The answer is a resounding no.
This isn't to say that everybody should absolutely love or even like the new album. That is to be left up to taste. However, I feel that people are biasing themselves with ridiculous expectations and in the end possibly ruining what could otherwise be a great musical experience.
Before hearing The Fixx's Want that Life, I had no expectation that the band would sound anything like they did 20 years ago, and you know, a part of me IS disappointed that they don't. So I understand that it's hard not to have these expectations. They make sense. I'm STILL disappointed that R.E.M. did not deliver a more rocking and raw album after their last two slower more deliberate and experimental albums (Up and Reveal). I'll admit in the beginning I hated the new R.E.M. album. I hated the first single Leaving New York from the first chord to the last, that first time I heard it played on the radio. It was so... pop. Where was the rock? Where was New Adventures in Hi-Fi? I loved that album. Why couldn't they just do something like that again? And then, I calmed down, and began to LISTEN to the song. The layered vocals. Mill's piano touches here and there. Peter's guitar chimes in the chorus. Wait a minute... this IS R.E.M. Electron Blue. First thing I think is Up, with its swirling and disjointed synth. Blah! Why R.E.M. why? But I begin to settle in to the vocals, swooning in on the chorus and I find myself singing at the top of my lungs "you know where to RUUUUUUUUUUUUUN"... Sure I must look pretty damn stupid, but I'm enjoying myself. Peter's guitar chiming in again during the chorus. Mill's bass booming in the last chorus. Make it All OK. Aaaah, Mill's piano at the forefront. Peter's guitars chiming in again. Mill's backing vocal throughout the song. Boy in the Well. Mill's piano. Peter's adept acoustic picking. Mill's backing vocals during the chorus. Around the Sun. Mill's piano. Peter's traditional minor chord play. All the while Stipe with his nonsensical lyrics and strange but strangly enticing wordplay. This IS R.E.M.
Anyways, I have no idea what I'm doing anymore. I guess I'm probably ranting by now and sounding like a Bible Belt preacher giving a sermon to his wayard sinners telling them to repent and see the error in their ways. Bleh.
Okay! Onto the R.E.M. concert review! (which I promise will be short!)
I saw R.E.M. Oct 16th in Irvine, and the setlist was sweet. Let me say that hearing World Leader Pretend AND Country Feedback live in one night is something I will never forget. The band rolled through quite a variety of songs from their catalogue, reminiscent of the type of approach they took to their Best Of In Time tour. The setlist is below:
Begin the Begin
South Central Rain
World Leader Pretend
Leaving New York
So Fast So Numb
I Wanted to Be Wrong
The One I Love
Losing My Religion
Life and How to Live It
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
I'm Gonna DJ
Man on the Moon
What else can I say that the setlist doesn't? Drive, So. Central Rain, WTFK, MOM, LAHTLI, TOIL...
They played some amazing songs from the back catalog and chose a nice selection of new songs to play (Outsiders, Bad Day, Animal, LNY, Aftermath, IWTBW).
Crowd was good. Orc section was up the entire time; loge and further back sat down most of the show, with the exception of TOIL, LMR, WTFK, and MOM. Thankfully so; I can barely manage sitting for 2+ hours much less standing.
Well I'd like to end with an apology. An apology for writing such a long post with no point to it really; just me blabbing and blabbing about nothing on end. Ah well, it'll probably be another 3 months before I get around to posting again anyway, so I might as well shoot my mouth enough in one post to make up for the lack of posting I've done.
Upcoming Album Releases:
Ani DiFranco - January 20
The Coral - January 27
Moby - February 3
Jonny Greenwood - February 24
The Hives - February 2004
Melissa auf der Maur - February 2004
Garbage - Early 2004
The Vines - Early 2004
The Who - Spring 2004
Wilco - Spring 2004
Beck - Summer 2004
Ben Folds - 2004
Chemical Brothers - 2004
Eels - 2004
Interpol - 2004
PJ Harvey - 2004
Queens Of The Stone Age - 2004
R.E.M. - 2004
U2 - 2004
Coldplay - Late 2004
Paul McCartney - Late 2004
Oasis - Late 2004