The three-legged dog years: All R.E.M.'s post-Bill Berry albums ranked

Follow the meanderings of the three-legged dog on their final five albums
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Around The Sun (2004)

And so we come to Around The Sun. As someone who writes about music on the internet, I am familiar with those "Bad Albums by Great Artists" listicles, and Around The Sun always ends up on those, near the top. Albums with toxic reputations like this usually get reassessed after a decade or two, but I don't see any reassessment for Around The Sun on the horizon. Every great artist with a long enough career releases one bad album, but Around The Sun wasn't just received as a bad album, it was scandalously bad. It nearly scuppered their legendary status. Even R.E.M. won't defend it.

As you can tell from this ranking, I disagree. I actively love Around The Sun! And this isn't a reassessment, it's been one of my favourites all along.

It's not a perfect album, of course, but the biggest problem I see is that it's not greater than the sum of its parts. It's 13 songs that have nothing to say collectively.

But boy do these songs get their point across individually. Around The Sun has no secrets. Even when the lyrics are nonsense, they're loud and clear. As someone who can be reduced to a jibbering mess by Michael Stipe's voice, this is all I ever wanted. As for the way the songs are structured, though there are experimental elements to keep everything interesting, the songs are concise, economical, hooky, and know exactly where they're going. There's none of the directionless meandering that marred the Up and Reveal

Not all the songs are great, it might have been a stronger album with three or four fewer tracks. But there are more highlights here than on Up and Reveal combined.

It's hard for me to reconcile this with comments from the band suggesting they were bored and just going through the motions, because R.E.M. sound especially engaged and passionate, especially on the one-two punch of protest songs "I Wanted To Be Wrong" and "Final Straw." Then again, other highlights like "The Boy In The Well," "The Outsiders," and the bafflingly absurd "The Ascent Of Man" do sound like songs R.E.M. could've written in their sleep, but this says more about the talent of these guys than it does the quality of the material.

Best lyric:

Then I raise my voice up higher
And I look you in the
I offer love with one condition
With conviction, tell me why
Look me in the eye
Tell me why

From "Final Straw..." though the whole song gives me goosebumps