I thought I was going to like this a lot more than I did. I really like Bob Mould’s solo stuff, and I like the post-Sugar stuff more than the pre-Sugar stuff, so it seemed reasonable that this would be a nice transition. But, while it’s a fine album, it’s not something I look forward to listening to.
The good consists of the songwriting and the performances. In particular, Mould really shines on guitar. The bad, though, ends up overshadowing all of that. The album’s got a very clear same-tempo, same-pitch problem. From the first track to the last, the band settles into this incredibly loud performance where everything is insanely compressed and turned up to ten and the pitches are right in this incredibly fatiguing mid-high range. Mould has figured out a way to get the guitar to sound an awful lot like his voice, which is a pretty abrasive one, and on both he’s added plenty of reverb to accentuate their unique qualities. It’s a saturation of one particular sound for forty-five minutes without any kind of respite, so much so that one song is barely distinguished from another. It happens mid-song, too. “Changes,” for example, the first single off of the album, has a cool second verse that happens after the choruses that changes the color of the song if you’re listening, but the effects on the instruments don’t change, so the song still feels like five minutes of constant assault.
To illustrate further, the three singles off of the album that I remember hearing a lot are “Changes,” “Helpless,” and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” However, I had no idea they were three different songs until now. And even now I kind of have trouble telling them apart. I think a lot of R.E.M’s songs, in particular the slower ones, are interchangeable, but this album really shows how you can make ten different songs sound incredibly similar just by using the same effects and tempo for all of them.
On a final note, it seems relevant, given the nature of my review, to point out that I’m listening to the 2012 remaster on Xbox Music (ie, mp3). I don’t think the file quality would affect my review much, but it’s possible the original master sound is more tolerable.
– “The Act We Act,” “Changes,” “Helpless,” “Hoover Dam,” “The Slim,” “If I Cant’ Change Your Mind,” “Fortune Teller,” “Man On The Moon”
– “A Good Idea,” “Fortune Teller,” “Slick”
Song Notes: After the jump
- The Act We Act – This guit solo is sweet. And the song’s pretty good, too.
- A Good Idea – Appreciate the novel sounds, but this is really annoying, with the persistently shouty chorus and those wingly (new word that means quickly strummed guit string while finger moves up fretboard) sounds….
- Changes – The worst of the three songs I remember.
- Helpless – A good one. But could be half as long and more powerful.
- Hoover Dam – Like this one, but it’s too long. The vocal melody stands out as unique on the album. Can’t quite turn that first verse into a great song, but still good.
- The Slim – Great start. One of the better songs on disc.
- If I Can’t Change Your Mind – Best track on the disc. Is narrator trying to convince amour that s/he’s not cheating?
- Fortune Teller – Nice riff, nice chunky drive, but just gets to be too much. Vocal is too whiny and there’s too much repetition in the chorus.
- Slick –
- Man On The Moon –