Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Single Review: "#9 Dream," R.E.M

(photo courtesy of the BBC)

As promised, here is a joint review (by myself and April Wright) of R.E.M's cover of John Lennon's "#9 Dream", which you can download here. And we do encourage you to download it, as proceeds from sales go to Amnesty International.

April Wright: I am so happy with the way this song turned out. Michael Stipe sounds younger than he has since...he was young (to quantify that, I'd say he hasn't sounded this you since Green).

The arrangement is very true to the spirit of the original song, but it still feels very much like R.E.M. Most obvious is Peter Buck's guitar work, which has that characteristic R.E.M. jangle.

The only thing I'm not happy with on this song are the keyboards, if only because I've been hoping R.E.M. would be moving away from that type of sound.

But let's be real. I can't be disappointed in this song. As an R.E.M. fan, I nearly exploded when I heard Bill Berry would be on this record. Other than the fan club holiday single, he hasn't been recorded with them in ten years. (Berry departed in 1997, following the release of New Adventures In Hi-Fi, to pursue a more quiet life.) This is every R.E.M. fanatic's biggest wish, and we got, if only for four minutes.

Jonathan Graef: April, I couldn’t have said it better myself. "#9 Dream” reminded me of why I loved R.E.M in the first place. Listening to it made me sad, though, because the song also inadvertently reminded me why R.E.M’s recent records have been so lacking lately: Berry’s departure. Regaining that key ingredient seems unlikely, so we fans will just have to settle for this bittersweet gem of a song.

Over at the Onion AV Club, writer Steve Hyden wrote an essay relating his ambivalence about R.E.M’s (once his favorite band) induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hyden’s essay basically asks the same question as Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity did about Stevie Wonder: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins? His answer was, in fact yes, and he uses R.E.M’s post-Berry output as justification for his reasoning.

The fatal flaw in the logic of Hyden’s essay was that many artists have spent decades in the artistic wilderness (look at Bob Dylan’s albums from the 80’s and most of the 90’s) before regaining their artistic vision. In theory, R.E.M is spending their time in the wilderness and could easily regain their essential artist status. In the case of regaining lost ground made by sub-par efforts like Around The Sun, I think that "#9 Dream” is a step in the right direction.

Stipe, and more importantly, the band, sounds more energetic than he/they ever have in the past 5 years (maybe even longer). For me, the keyboards were a nice, quick allusion to R.E.M’s recent direction; they did their job and got out of the way. After that, "#9 Dream” is a sweet, sad and poppy reminder of what the band was and, if Berry were to rejoin the band or if the active members of R.E.M. finally get their act together, what the band could be again.

(April Wright and Jonathan Graef)

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Anonymous David said...

I'm so undecided! I was never crazy about this John Lennon song in the first place, so I have a hard time sorting my feelings out. But it is great to hear Bill playing with the boys again, and they all sound good.
I'm super-optimistic about this next one of theirs - probably too optimistic for my own good.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

I'm holding my judgement until I hear a single. Around The Sun was their absolute nadir as a group so, for me, they have nowhere to go but up.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous April said...

I'm optimistic, but in the past they've said the next album will "rock," and then it didn't...

I think ATS suffered in production...the songs sound very good live.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Their post-Berry work is definitely underappreciated, from songs like "Daysleeper" through to "I've Been High." But yeah, Around the Sun was just incredibly bad. I still don't understand how that happened.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

Is it better to burn out than to fade away?

11:32 AM  

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