It’s safe to say that Around The Sun is the one R.E.M. album that would be the easiest to lose forever. Once you get past its first single and opening track Leaving New York there’s a lot to wade through before you get to the closing title track. First, though, some good news: it’s not nearly as bad as I remember it. The bad news is that it’s still not particularly memorable.
The trouble is that most of the songs are not radical, not strong, not interesting, and there’s no sense of progression, no sense of newness here. It feels for the most part like a band getting old comfortably. Given the pains they went through after Bill Berry left the band, on the one hand it’s impressive how smoothly they’ve made the transition to operating functionally together, but a little tension often goes a long way towards creating greatness, and there’s not enough of it on show during Around The Sun 50 or so minutes.
Leaving New York is another of the grand R.E.M. acoustic numbers, following in the footsteps of earlier songs like Daysleeper, Drive perhaps, maybe even Swan Swan H. Beyond that? The Ascent of man and Around The Sun at the album’s end try to kid you into remembering a better middle set than you were given, and there are snatches of enjoyment in Wanderlust, The Boy in the Well and The Worst Joke Ever, but it’s just too full of familiar R.E.M. tropes, only done badly. It feels as though they got together in the studio and settled for the first collection of songs they came up with: if someone hit on something half-decent it was in.
Peter Buck reputedly said that the problem with the album was that they were all just so bored with the material. Thankfully, messrs Buck, Mills and Stipe would get their mojo back sooner rather than later, and they’d call it Accelerate.