Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I was at a party in Allston in 2005 with Ben, when some wax mustached wannabe skateboard punk walked into the room, stood directly between me and Ben, and began talking about some band he'd seen puke in a similar basement a few weeks before. The subject of Beck's then new album, Guero, came up, and I said "I really like it. It's a little top heavy, but there aren't any songs I actively dislike."
He made the thumbs down gesture with both hands. "'Hell Yes' is okay, but the rest of it? Nah. Nah. It's like Beck's dad music."
I've seen that guy in the past couple of years, still riding his penny-farthing bicycle. Now with two kids in tow, probably named Smock and Duckfart, and like every other person who's ever seen that bicycle, they long to see it and its rider slowly crushed under a steamroller.
I would argue that Guero is Beck's last full on fun album. The Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Soundtrack is a blast, but Beck's contribution is basically an EP, that I included on Midnite Vultures Afterparty. The lyrics are still inventive here, the music is mostly upbeat, and you could put it on the background of a party that wasn't quaalude themed.
"Jackass" isn't even my favorite song on Odelay but the mariachi version, Burro, is a joyous fucken delight that I wouldn't deprive of any Beck fan. It helps set the unusual tone for this summer festive album.
A little radio and car transient noise builds into Rental Car, it has garage fuzz vocals and a nice distorted guitar riff. It's one of the few songs on the album that I couldn't tell you what it's about without actively looking at the lyrics. I can't sing along with it, apart from the yea yea yea and the la la la la la la la parts. But it keeps me moving quickly down the street when I'm listening to it. (It turns out to be a song about a rental car trip that seems like it will end in death.)
So I guess it makes sense to transition it into Farewell Ride. It might be an alternate version of the previous song, but it's more Westerny. Clearer lyrics. Classic American harmonica and string arrangement. Horses in place of rental cars. Some may say this might be your last farewell ride.
Emergency Exit continues the driving to death saga. It feels like another part of the previous track. The tempo barely changes, the instrumentation is similar. It's a little too much / To ask of faith it's a little late / To wait for fate /So tell the angels / What you seen / Scarecrow shadow / On Nazarene is not a terrible epitaph or Beck lyric to go out on.
There is no bad place or bad album for that gorgeous intro lick to Loser to land. I know this is way late in the discography for this, the song that made him famous, but it just fits better on this album than any others. Though, I kind of want it on all of his albums. I remember arguing about the chorus in high school. "It's not nonsense, it's Spanish. Don't you take Spanish? How do you not know the word loser in Spanish? Isn't it what the teacher calls you when you scratch your head into piles of dandruff on your desk?" Get crazy with the Cheez-Whiz.
Electric Music And The Summer People is a dance party classic that they never play. It's got the 70s danceability of "New Pollution" with a late 60s summer clean lyric sound, and some Odelay effects. That's what I like.
The track spirals out into the top-heavy section of Guero. E-Pro is a banger. The first time I listened to this album played, I had to fight myself from just clicking the back button and listening to this again. This was a few years before it became apparent that Boston's WFNX was going to, like most good rock radio stations, disappear, and I would crank this every time it played. Suck it Penny-Farthing Bicycle Dad.
Que Onda Guero is a joyous celebration of Latin American street festival summer days with classic Beck lyrics. Guero, being one of his childhood nicknames. The track closes with Guero being lightly teased as he walks by.
I saw her, yeah I saw her with her black tongue tied / Round the roses / Fist pounding on a vending machine / Toy diamond ring stuck on her finger / With a noose she can hang from the sun / And put it out with her dark sunglasses /Walking crooked down the beach / She spits on the sand where their bones are bleaching / And I know I'm gonna steal her eye / She doesn't even know what's wrong / And I know I'm gonna make her die / Take her where her soul belongs /And I know I'm gonna steal her eye / Nothing that I wouldn't try / Hey, my sun-eyed Girl.
Missing has me changing up my rhythm of my fast walking along with my boots full of rocks to this album. But it doesn't slow me down. It's the last of the tracks that were originally at the beginning of the album.
Look, Penny Farthing Guy was a moron, but Hell Yes is one of the best songs on the album. And I thought that, even before I knew that the female vocalist is Cristina Ricci. It's definitely the song that most seems like it could have been on Midnite Vultures.
Totally Confused, on the other hand, is pure Odelay, maybe even One Foot In The Grave. It's a downer folk ballad with a female backup vocalist. It certainly seems written by a younger Beck, one unsure about love, and one who expresses it directly instead of using fractured imagery to tell his story.
We up the tempo back to "E-Pro" level with Black Tambourine. It's purely a slightly lighter version of that song, with less catchier lyrics. But with an oh-oh-ohhh that I just didn't want to leave off the album. Penny Farthing Guy might have been right about this track.
Broken Drum is one of those songs that I love but never remember the name of. Or the lyrics. Unless I'm listening to it. In which case, I know all the words. It could have been from Sea Change as it's got sweeping sleepy riffs and vocals.
Forget the Jack White appearance, Go It Alone is just a magic song to listen to. While it also has the instrumentation that recalls "E-Pro", it puts the vocals first in both the mix, and in importance. It's spare use of various effects before White crunches in with guitar, is *chef kiss*.
Scarecrow dolphins into the previous song's fade out. It's also a lyric popping song. But it's much more upbeat, despite the nasally downer vocals.
Closing out the album is Earthquake Weather, which hits us with a scratch, and some people talking in the background. It's another song that would have been at home on Odelay but is a welcome closer here, as it leaves us with effects instead of a fade out or a sharp vocal cutoff.
If Odelay was a declaration of weird intent, and Mutations was a lament about how bad relationships can crumple you into a man-smelling ball, then Midnite Vultures Afterparty is the ridiculous dance party you use to shake the Bottle Of Blues away.
The original Midnite Vultures is all weird, bubbly, and bright. I have excised the most repetitive of them, and replaced them with the fuzz bangers off of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Sountrack, a couple of acoustic tracks from One Foot In The Grave, and the song from Sea Change that I accidentally left off of Mutations. I think it ends up making a more complex, but equally fun album.
There are two tracks on Midnite Vultures that could start, end, or be placed on any album by Beck, and they're guaranteed hits. The original album starts with one of them, I've opted for the otheer. Debra is a lost Prince song. I would absolutely believe it, if Beck claimed that Prince wrote it for him. It's an all falsetto song about wanting to have a threesome with someone he met at JC Penny. And her sister. I think her name's Debra.
Mixed Bizness perfectly meshes the sound of Midnite Vultures with the lyricism of Odelay. Word up to the man thing / She's always cold lamping / Visine at the canteen / I just want to watch you dance. And it's hard not to dance to this ridiculous album with is beeps, blorps, and doo-dooo-doos.
Our first scruffy garage song is Threshold, which proudly lets you know where the beginning of the song is while fuzzing the fuzz out of some fuzzy guitar. It's technically by fictional band, Sex Bob-omb, but Beck wrote it, and he performs the fuzz out of it.
On rethinking this album, there are actually three songs that could be hits, and can work as any part of the album. Get Real Paid is a mellow banger which closes with the often missung, rarely understood line, Touch my ass if you're qualified.
Summertime is another Sex Bob-omb song With my peacock hands and my tangerine skulls /
And my grizzly bear face and my voice from Target. It doesn't make me fondly recollect any summers of my youth, or invoke what scene in the movie it was from, but it is a fun sing-along fuzzy song.
I've included the first third of Milk & Honey as it has a nice progressive rise from the previous track into
Sexx Laws! The other surefire hit song. Only prudes and depraved, in-denial Republican Senators don't sing along to this absolute classic about sexual freedom. Let me your chaperone / to the halfway home / I'm a full grown man / but I'm not afraid to cry-y-y-y-y is one of my all-time favorite lyrics.
When Beck was but a wee youngin' in 1994, he dropped not one, not two, but Three albums. And out of those albums, only one track made the radio. Mighty Good Leader is not that song. It's an acoustic sneery dirge off of One Foot In The Grave that's actually a cover of a Skip Jones blues song. I think early folk Beck is important, but not enough that anyone should be forced to listen to a whole album of it. But this is one of two songs from that era that I absolutely love.
Then we get back to the bloop bleep fun part with Pressure Zone, a song I never paid much attention to from the original Midnite Vultures album but which I find much stronger than some of the songs I used to know all the lyrics to.
I don't know how I managed to leave Golden Age off of Mutations, but I actually like that it was available to pop onto this album. It's a classic downtempo Beck ballad, and it's nice to have one well-produced ballad to mix in with the fuzz mantras, the bloopy bleep pop, and the acoustic doldrums.
I'll feed you fruit that don't exist / I'll leave graffiti / Where you've never been kissed / I'll do your laundry / Massage your soul / I'll turn you over / To the highway patrol. I love Nicotine & Gravy. I can't explain why.
Another fun song that I absolutely adore is the Sex Bob-omb anthem Garbage Truck, which doesn't at all remind me of that time I got caught in a couch.
Peaches & Cream is a song that falls somehwere between "Debra" and "Nicotine & Gravy", so I've edited it down to just the first verse because I didn't want to entirely lose the way Beck shouts Peaches and creeeeeeeeam!
The first time I heard Beck's Asshole*, it was being covered by Tom Petty on the She's The One Soundtrack. I love both versions equally.
Closing out the album is another Sex Bob-omb song. There are two versions of Ramona on the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Soundtrack but I prefer the more orchestral version that appears here. It's a sweet little lament for a truly magical girl.
* - If you hold Beck's Asshole to your ear, you can hear Rick James singing the chorus to Sexx Laws
One of my favorite artists at the turn of the millennium, both when I was a 90s kid, trying to avoid the Kid Rockification of rock, and when I was depressed in Burlington, Vermont, looking for some smooth ballads, was Beck. The two of us were always on the same page. When I was happy, Beck was happy, when I needed to sit in my room and write about love, he was there to croon about how awful it was. Then, at some point in the 2010s, he lost me. I still enjoyed the way his mind works, but he'd entered the 80s Bob Dylan phase of his career. There were still some interesting tracks, but it was mostly just mediocre singer songwriter tunes that didn't live up to his earlier work.
Today, at work, I saw an article about how the new Beck album was very good again. Not a masterpiece, the writer suggested, but no longer just mid-tempo melancholia. So I bought the album, and I'll be toying with that and his more recent albums in the next couple of days.
Until then, I'll share my reimagined albums from him.
Beck is another artist, where I'm less concerned with chronology, and more with how an album sounds together. I'm going to alternate between the more playful albums, and the more sweeping lowkey albums. And there will be many fewer of them than there are actual Beck albums.
You're bored with music. All the rock on the radio sounds like Kurt Cobain is dead, and everyone's raiding his vault. The boy bands are cracking out of their Faberge eggs. Alternative rock makes no more sense. U2 is alternative. Kid Rock is alternative. Green Day is alternative. Marilyn Manson is alernative. Oasis is alternative. Pavement is alternative. Blink 182 is alternative. None of this makes sense to you. Country is almost alternative music as Garth Brooks goes pop, and Shania Twain exists. All the straight up pop is anthemic white ladies or young blonde Mouseketeers. Every R&B song on the radio is either fighting about a guy, hating on a guy, or remembering that Biggie and Tupac are dead. This does make sense, but sometimes you're in a rock mood, and that's what's disappointing you.
That guy who had the song that people didn't understand the lyrics to drops an album with The Dust Brothers, and, ohhh, this doesn't make sense, but in a Glorious way.
Heads are hanging from the garbageman trees / Mouthwash, jukebox, gasoline, / Pistols are pointing at a poor man's pockets / Smiling eyes with 'em out of the sockets. Please. Please more. Devil's Haircut has no bullshit for you. Drum loop background growlers high hat a horn that sounds like a mosquito singing through an elephant's trunk. Scream the chorus at the end.
Then another scream before the twang of aphorisms and geee-tar, Lord Only Knows why this title track isn't called by the album title's name as it Odelays into a Titanic hammock. Don't call us when the new age gets old enough to drink. A rare fade out.
Whistling a tune of country inertia when my neck is broken / and my pants ain't getting no bigger. The emergency broadcast system for line dancers? Sissyneck has the toe touch down to the rhinestone boots. Sweet chorus harmony. Pretends he doesn't care about your problems. Wails over congos.
There's a vinyl hiss. Empty boxes in a pawn shop brain. Spare spare and breakdown. Guitar out of nowhere turns elevator music and the elevator is stuck forever. Twang that mouth harp. Pick that guitar like it's Readymade.
High 5 [Rock The Catskills] hip hops techno. Samples samples vocal fuzz music stops and starts like who is directing the symphony for this silent film? Rap verse. Screamy chorus. Shaming breakdown then bring back the music. Say oooooo la la.
Bring it down. String an alternative (there it is there's that word that stupid nonsense doesn't describe any music I've ever heard label) lullaby. Something's in the way of this slightly countrified every 90s downtempo Ramshackle lament. Your train's in the sand / Ramshackle land /Let the rats watch the races.
From silence, a blues riff country. I like pianos in the evening sun. Truly, the sequel to the first hit that doesn't appear on the album. Spanish chorus untranslated. Harmonica solo metal. Boop your beep in a gleep gleep record scratch. Hotwax residues / you never lose in your razorblade shoes. says The Enchanting Wizard Of Rhythm.
Tom Waits drags a set of junkyard windchimes through a swamp, shooting venom at the passersby. Derelict Dylan steals a sitar packed a suitcase and threw it away. Passes the cashed song to the left. An organ will see you out, folk.
Disco the funk into some colored lights and dance your chaos to The New Pollution. Alternawhat? Alternawho? Saxaphone in the alternawhich. Keyboard jangle. She's got a paradise camouflage / Like a whip-crack sending me shivers / She's a boat through a strip-mine ocean / Riding low on the drunken rivers. Let your chaos wind down to sway.
Novacane is back to samples and simple strings. Wait, no. Harmonica and buzz guitar. Wait, no. Disco hook. No, wait. Keep on talking like a Novocaine hurricane / Low static on the poor man's short-wave. Radio jumps into Beastie Boy fuzz. Scratch the record. Change the channel. This chaos. This buzzsaw. This Moog? This tonal atonal. This Daft Punk is listening. This wind down stereo out.
Tropicalia melancholia. I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes. / Loose ends tying the noose in the back of my mind. Is none of this album actually the happy the music makes? Somber bombast. Bob Dylan harmonica. Beck beck bob. Beck beck dust. Donkey donkey donkey. Jackass.
Record hiss skip. Record hiss. Needle down. Sweet sweet samples and tones are Where It's At. That was a good drum break.
Here we go here we go Nirvana 90s. Alternathis, I guess. Grunge Minus vinyl pops. It's a sensation / A bankrupt corpse / In the garbage classes / With the crutches of frogs / Frogs! Frogs! Frogs! Fizzle. Twang. Out.
Ween fandom is sketchier than Saturday Night Live. I can not, in good conscience, recommend anyone get Really Into Ween. They're a band that I won't think about for years, and then someone will mention a word that shows up in one of their songs, and that song is stuck in my head for a week. Very rarely are they songs I would ever sing in public.
I didn't know about Ween until I lived in a house full of drug dealers in Vermont. I was not a drug dealer, I was barely a casual drug user. But rent was cheap, the room was offered to me, and they were all, in addition to being drug dealers, creative and interesting people with a variety of non-drug centered jobs. Also, all but one of them only dealt weed, nobody was breaking down our doors with submachine guns for bananas and blow.
After about six months living in the house, I needed to take a trip to Chicago, and was not looking forward to Greyhounding it. As ... luck ? would have it, one of my roommate's girlfriends (as in "my many roommates were all dating people", not "one of my roommate's various girlfriends) was on her way to Columbus, Ohio, where I would still have to grab a bus, but I would be on it for ten fewer hours. The thing was ... she and two of her friends were going to see a band I didn't know much about, Ween. But they weren't just three random people going to see a rock show ten hours away from home, they were three white girls who were dressing up as geishas to go see a band ten hours away. Even in 2000, I was, like "Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah." But I needed the ride.
The ride kinda sucked, and I should have just taken the bus. But before the trip, I decided to bone up on Ween. Three of my four roommates had Ween records. Not CDs, not tapes, records. So I got to listen to them on Vinyl, hook them up to my cassette deck / CD player, and record my own mix, pretty much precisely as I do with these Reimagined Discographies, but decidedly more lofi.
Ween is ... not always my thing. They're super talented, but they try on different genres of music like they're pairs of shoes at a used clothing shop. Some consistently work, some work sporadically, and some tracks I bowed out of superquick.
One of their hooks is Shock Humor. Which is not my thing at all. But a bunch of their music overcomes it, or is just falsely shocking. There's a track I'll get to in the description that has a sweet origin, but sounds like it's tacky. And then there are some tracks that ARE tacky or problematic as Adam Corolla's fetid (that's a thought not worth completing). Some of their tracks are tacky or problematic. With one exception, I've only included offensive tracks that are targeted at a demographic I'm part of. And there's only one that is a diss track. It's filled with anti-gay terminology in its lyrics, but Ween isn't anti-gay or homophobic, they were a couple of party-focused music nerds with queer friends who filled a song with deliberately outdated stereotypes and put it to catchy music. I will totally understand if you hate it / never want to listen to it. But if it were hateful, I would be the person the song was targeting, and I think it's too ridiculous (and non-threatening, or I wouldn't bother with it) to be taken seriously, and the music is a joy.
We'll start with a song you could play out in public, provided someone wasn't listening too too closely to the lyrics. There are no swears, no overt sexuality (I mean, it's all about sex, but in a radio friendly way). Voodoo Lady is just a really catchy dance track about ... ummm ... is it about being pegged? That tracks. It does use the word voodoo, which could be viewed as appropriation, but it doesn't attempt to talk about voodoo, it just uses it as an adjective frequently used in rock classics. It's dancey as jitter. (Triggers: somewhat subtle reference to being pegged, innuendo, geographically prejudice suggesting that someone might "make love" to gators.)
12 Country Classics is probably my favorite Ween album. They really nail the country sound, musically, and somewhat thematically, while deliberately getting the words completely wrong in often, but not always, delightful ways. Don't Shit Where You Eat My Friend is a profane song filled with good advice. Who doesn't need one of those in their life? And then there's a little surf acoustic rock tacked on the end. Yee-ha? (Triggers: the word "shit" is in the title so there's naughty language but they're not actually talking about eating shit, so it's not as gross as the title might have you fearing.)
The band goes all grungey both musically and vocally for I Can't Put My Finger On It, perhaps, the best song ever about not being able to identify why you do or don't like a gyro. (Triggers: fuzzed out vocals, it's totally inoffensive.)
Ok. I get why you wouldn't trust an often provocative band to put out something called The HIV Song. I totally understand. But I read an interview where either Dean or Gene Ween talked about living in New York City, and having most of their friends be queer members of the theater and music communities, and how watching them get sick and die was terrifying. They coped by cutting a ridiculously circus jingle where the only lyrics are the alternating HIV and AIDS at the end of each instrumental verse. Is it weird? Yes. Is it offensive? No. (Trigger warning: if the words "HIV" and "AIDS" offend you just by existing, this song is super not for you. But there's no commentary about it at all, there are just those two words blandly said at the end of instrumental verses.)
There's a late 70s / early 80s funk vibe melded with 90s alternative rock in Exactly Where I'm At that I love. It's a song about dealing with fame. There are no trigger warnings for this song. It's totally safe to play in public.
Take Me Away is more funk-infused alternative rock. It's a generic, misogyny tinted song. And, by misogynic, I mean in the way pretty much all bland rock and R&B and disco and funk and country and opera and folk and polkas and rap songs can be misogynist. A guy asks to be taken away from a girl that's "driving him crazy". That's it. No objectivity, or name calling, or insults. He never calls her "crazy". He is just driven crazy because of unrequited love. (Trigger warning: If you're the kind of person who finds the casual use of "crazy" as ableist and unlistenable, you should already be ten miles away from this album.)
Just the title Waving My Dick In The Wind tells you whether or not you're probably in the right frame of mind to listen to the song, right? It's a take on Mr. Bojangles, where, presumably, the dance move involves waving genitalia in appreciation of someone you love. (Trigger warning: the title, getting old sucks.)
The most offensive song on the album is almost definitely Mister Richard Smoker. It's a series of dated references to homosexuality. It's just 2:30 seconds of telling someone who is out and gay that they're out and gay. But in dated language. It makes no judgement. But it sets it to country blues piano and strings. Why? Who. Knows. But it's delightful. (Trigger warning: It's easy to see this as homophobic based on the terminology, even though there are no slur words, just slur terminology like "poopy poker" and "velvet coker". Terms not at all meant to be taken seriously.)
Another country twang song that is lyrically weird but thematically country is the hangover jamboree Help Me Scrape The Mucus Off My Brain. The most problematic part of the song is the sound of the word "mucus", so if you can handle that word, you'll be fine. (Trigger warning: He spent the dog food money. Also, he's totally hungover.)
You are well within your right to skip Spinal Meningitis. It's a type of song that Ween has done a few times, but this is the only one I've included. It's a dark alternative / new wave brood with creepy child voiced verses and a draggy chorus. It's guitar riff at the end comes out of nowhere. Like many an 80s metal riff. (Trigger: spooky child voiced lyrics about dying.)
If Jimmy Buffet collaborated with Ween ... what's that, you're leaving? Come Back! ... it would have produced the steel-drum tropical dance song Bananas And Blow. This is the Ween song that most gets stuck in my head. (Trigger warnings: drugs are bad, kid. This song is less blatant and offensive than Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" or, literally, anything by The Weeknd.)
Happy Colored Marbles is incredibly reminiscent of the music of "Bananas And Blow". It's actually from the very limited Weendow of time after I stopped listening to Ween but before they stopped producing new music. It's a song about not "losing your marbles" but temporarily giving them away when you don't want to deal with them. Either way, its lyrics are entirely unproblematic. This is another song that it's completely okay to play in public, though the end gets instrumentally heavy and plodding. The lyrics are fine. No trigger warning.
Another song to completely judge by the title is Flies On My Dick. The singer has a partner that wants to do drugs with him but doesn't want to fuck, hence the title. In the end, he "knows what (he) must do" and jerks off. (Trigger warning: Sex references, the word "dick" is right there in the title. But he never judges the person for not having sex with him.)
Do you need a country song satirizing the trope of asking a partner to leave because she's a nag? Do you need it filled with mild mostly radio friendly profanity until the chorus which includes the "B" word? You really don't but I still like this song. Piss Up A Rope is filled with deliberately misogynist language. It's satire, but it's not gentle satire. (Trigger warning: Country songs are often misogynist, particularly when they try and be funny songs about the end of relationships. Objectification. Suggestions that the person have sex with them if they want to stay. The words "shit" and "bitch".)
Much the way you can imagine their country songs are legitimately country musicians singing heartfelt lyrics, Don't Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy could definitely be confused for a Bowie-derivative New Wave band sincerely singing about a father advising his son about one of their deaths ? (Trigger: Some people think this song is about molestation. I think that's a difficult leap to make, but it's not completely out of nowhere.)
Transdermal Celebration is another "past my time" Ween song that I like. It sounds like Stone Temple Pilots singing about crustaceans growing out of their shells. So ... maybe it's about the band outgrowing the reputation they achieved from their Mollusk album? No triggers.
Dean Ween is one half of the band. So Gene Ween sings about What Deaner Was Talking About. A song that seems to me to be about anxiety and having your first panic attack, which someone close to you has told you about, and now you get what they meant. But that's a stab in the dark. It's not a very direct song about anything. No triggers, which is kind of surprising for a song about panic attacks.
Ween's only actual hit was Push The Little Daisies, a vocally tweaked song about death and girls where the lead singer sounds like Cartmen, even though the song predates "South Park" by five or six years. While it's definitely their biggest hit, it's not even close to their best song. But it's fun. (Triggers: The lead singer sounds like Eric Cartmen.)
Casual misogyny is the basis for the music industry. Seriously. It just it. Pandy Fackler is a song about loving a prostitute. Not saving a prostitute. Not degrading her. Just mentioning that she's a working girl. It does also suggest she's either homeless or high enough to eat cotton candy from a garbage can. It doesn't frame it as being gross. The music is keyboard pop. (Trigger: one of the lyrics is "sucking dick under the promenade" which is a ridiculous phrase.)
When I made the original version of this mix back in 2001, I was making it from vinyl, so I was able to play with speeds, so I recorded Drifter In The Dark at its original speed for the first two verses, and then bumped it up a speed so the main vocals were pitched fast, but the echo vocals were at normal speed. The actual version has the main vocals at regular speed, with echo vocals slowed down. I prefer hearing the song both ways, but I don't have either a record player or this record to recreate it. (Triggers: vocals played at the wrong speed.)
Buenos Tardes Mi Amigo is a Western film sung from the perspective of a Mexican character. I don't know Michael "Mickey" Melchiondo (Dean Ween)'s nationality. He could be Latino. But this is definitely a put-on accent comparable to what you'd hear in an American Western (or Spaghetti Western) film. You could see this ending up on the second Kill Bill soundtrack. It's perfect in its faithfulness to the genre. And it's a cool narrative. I forgot most of the lyrics. The second time I listened to it this year, I was at work (after the store was closed) and said "Don't poison the chicken!" to the song, which my coworker overheard, and, as she wasn't listening to the lyrics, had no idea what I was talking about. (Trigger: fake Mexican accent in service of genre.)
I don't have to understand Freedom Of '76 to like it. It's vaguely about how fake and awful America is without making any controversial statements? (Triggers: falsetto. "Mannequin was filmed at Woolworth's.")
Japanese Cowboy has one offensive line that it repeats three times. Hands down. Yeup. It's ungentle satire where the lead singer talks about things that ain't right. One of them is the title, the other is brothers on skates, which was a shitty 90s joke about the whiteness of hockey, but I prefer to imagine is about how weird it would be to see a monk figure skating. If you cut out the two references I've mentioned, this is a perfectly wonderful country satire song. But I guess that's the hook, that country is a problematic genre. (Triggers: already mentioned. It's a shitty repeated line.)
This mix ends with another song post-my time listening to Ween. Hey There, Fancypants is delightful. It is non-problematic. It's also not a ballad. I know I usually end albums on a mellow fade out, but since most Ween songs are, at their core, honest but surfacely insincere, I decided to end on a nice, bouncy song about how soul crushing it is to be a performer.
As you might have guessed from the month long intermission, I wasn't especially stoked to go through the final phase of REM. Up came out during my Must Buy Every CD From Every Artist I Love phase of my 20s, and I listened to it repeatedly, trying to will myself to like it more. I had recently transitioned out of working in a record store an into working in a chocolate store, and had also started blogging / sending out e-newsletters to fans. My very first one mentioned listening to this album while waiting for a manager to unlock the shop. I believe I referenced trying to slit my wrists with a crisply folded dollar bill.
The blogs got happier.
The REM albums did not. Reveal never appealed to me. I bought it, I listened to if a couple of times, and then I forgot about it. So much so, that it turns out that I never uploaded it to my computer, and have just now realized that there are no tracks from that album at all represented here. That's ... fine. I do remember enjoying "All The Way To Reno", as well as "Bad Day" from their Greatest Hits around this time. But I didn't miss them when I put this together, so I'm not going to redo the album.
I thought Around The Sun was okay, but it felt like the way I feel when I'm done writing something, feel content, then look at it and think "Oh God, I've already written this before. And I wrote it much better back then." It feels a bit like a B or C-side release.
I appreciated Accelerate's return to early REM rock sound, but after a few tracks, the songs started to sound the same, just A Better Same than the previous two albums. And while I've included some songs from that album that I really enjoy listening to, I couldn't quote a single lyric.
I didn't even know Collapse Into Now had come out, nevermind that it was the band's final album, until one of the songs came up on a friend's playlist in the car. This is no fault of REM, 2011 was not my favorite year. But Collapse Into Now, while never going to be in contention for my favorite REM album, certainly felt more like one of their classic albums than the preceding three.
I don't want to give the impression that this reimagined album doesn't have its own unique sound. It does. I think it holds together nicely, and I like it much better than I imagined I would. But most of my descriptions are going to be talking about which previous album I think it would fit well on. This is both an attempt to be helpful to REM fans who couldn't stick with it, and also as a bit of an homage to their final album, which was a deliberate attempt to revisit certain eras of their history. I thought that was a cool conceit.
REM came back soft and grieving from their diminishing. Reviewers dubbed their new sound "keyboard farts" and it was easy to hear the whole album as a dirge. I don't want that feel. So I'm starting with one of my favorite rockers from their later work, Horse To Water. It's got the upbeat guitar of Monster if you squeegeed all the grunge off and tried to toss it gently back to Fables Of The Reconstruction.
Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter is "Shiny, Happy, People" if it didn't suck. The lyrics are delightfully early REM, the background vocals are punk rock, the guitars have picked up a little bit of the grunge that was shed from the previous track. It's fast, loud, and joyous, without feeling cloying. I guess if I were going to put it on an earlier REM album, I would have to slice it in half Solomon style, and send it back to Green and Chronic Town.
Those two tracks were heavily influenced by their earliest work, but as I mentioned, their first two post-Berry era albums were more Automatic For The People / New Adventures In Hi-Fi but with drum machines and keyboards. It's not my favorite era by a long stretch, but there were some good tracks on those albums, including Electron Blue. Stipe's vocals are further up in the mix on these first two albums, which I quite enjoy. I understand that pushing his vocals back make the rock tracks feel more retro, but I enjoy how the reverb on vocals like this one make you feel like you're at a concert, and the vocals are hitting you at different times from different speakers.
Outsiders is a song that just sounds like the album it's from, Around The Sun. Doubled vocals and Stipe harmonizing with himself usually doesn't work for me, but he nails it here. There's a breakdown, and then Q-Tip sets down a verse. It's not my favorite rap verse on a rock song by a long stretch, but it's 1,000% better than KRS-One on "Radio Song".
A piano ballad? On an REM album? No. Hollow Man's acoustic piano intro quickly waves back and forth between piano and guitar soft rock. It does sound like a re-recording of something off of Green with better production value.
Blue definitely could have worked from the Automatic For The People era. It's got Stipe doing spoken word over guitar and effects before Patti Smith, who also appeared on "E-Bow The Letter", has her vocals crawl over his poetry.
Crawling is also how Lotus arrives. A wriggly, vocally doubled shimmy that definitely would have felt at home on Automatic For The People. This was the song from Up that made me hold out hope for what would become the slow wind-down of REM's career. It's a sad song about being happy again. Haven't you noticed?
I don't know where I'd put It Happened Today in the spectrum of previous REM albums. Maybe Murmur. Sure Stipe's voice is gruffer, and Buck and Mills are more masterful than jangly, but this track definitely has an experimental flair that a lot of their later work didn't bother with.
A drum track and a jangly guitar and an echoey keyboard set this solidly in Monster territory. Suspicion could be "Tongue"'s mature sibling. It's occasional surfish guitar is also a great feature, a trick that the band rarely uses, but which always feels welcome.
Supernatural Superserious brings the rock guitar back. This song could really have come from almost any REM album except Automatic For The People and Up. It feels like a song they sat on for years, while also sounding 21st century fresh.
We are dropped back into New Adventures In Hi-Fi with Boy In The Well. The acoustic guitar line is fantastic. The drums are played loud, but set back in the mix. The keyboards fade forward and back, while Stipe's vocals sit clearly in the center. A slightly different mix would make this feel ethereal, but I think its refusal to go full Ballad while only having half a foot in rock works really well.
If I were a slightly bigger jerk, Diminished would have been the title track for this album. It works for both quantity of band members, and overall quality for their last four albums. But 3/4 Time is mean enough. This feels very Document to me. I do love the effects laid over strings, and the more prominent than usual bass.
"Diminished" has a false ending and an acoustic hidden track actual ending that works as a perfect bridge to At My Most Beautiful, the piano ballad that "Hollow Man" threatened to be. This is another clear Automatic For The People throwback. The background doo doo doo doo vocals are a perfect accent to another sad song about being happy and in love. This was in consideration for final track of the album, as it, too, has a false ending, and a satisfying fade out. But ...
Discoverer gives us a booming bass drum that has been long absent from REM's catalogue. This is Chronic Town all day and night, and I love it. I didn't want the back half of the album to feel like a complete wind-down, and this is a nice pick up in tempo.
If you don't consider Uberlin, "Drive (Part Two)", then I don't know how to talk to you about this song. It just feels like it's "Drive"'s sequel, if it had been placed on New Adventures In Hi-Fi. It's more uplifting, but it's all about the Hey now that made "Drive" so catchy.
The album closes out with the band's first post-Berry era single, Daysleeper. I didn't know if I liked this song when I first bought the album. I was worried that this Automatic For The People happy maudlin was going to be the new normal for REM, and while it was for a while, they did eventually evolve out of it so much that I found myself really enjoying this song.