Monday, June 13, 2011

Let's all listen to me rant about something no one else cares about. Bring popcorn.

Let me start by saying that I love R.E.M.
I've loved it for a long time, it's one of my very favorite groups, and lately I've re-kindled that love by listening to their CD's more often. (My favorite is "Automatic For The People".)

One of my bittersweet college memories is sitting in the dorm basement, watching MTV and being incredibly moved by the video to "Everybody Hurts".

I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for the bassist, Mike Mills. In addition to his usual job of playing bass, he's also played guitar (electric and acoustic) and piano.

Michael Stipe writes the lyrics for their songs, whereas Mike Mills (along with Peter Buck) writes the actual music.
Plus he sings. His voice is wonderful. It's rare to find songs where you can hear his voice prominently displayed; usually he's relegated to doing background stuff.

He is an excellent musician and composer who takes music seriously AND enjoys it. Since I am also a musician and composer who strives to do the same, I can relate.

R.E.M's new album is called "Collapse Into Now."
I bought it last week, in hopes of hearing some neat stuff, and especially in hopes of hearing Mike Mills' talents prominently displayed.

Although there are some good songs (like Ɯberlin), in general I was disappointed.

It's hard to really hear his voice anywhere. I know he's the one doing the harmonies in the background, but there are no good spots where his voice is clearly overtly audible by itself (unlike songs on other albums where he had prominent countermelodies, unique harmonies, or even separate melodic segments-- like "Orange Crush", "Stand", "Maps And Legends", "At My Most Beautiful", "Fall On Me", and especially in "Animal").
Even his bass lines were frustratingly subtle at times, unlike previous bass lines which were clear and melodic and memorable, like the opening part to "Man On The Moon", the energetic notes in "The One I Love," the beautiful simplicity of "Everybody Hurts", or the six-string bass intro to "All The Way To Reno". I even love the straight eighth notes at the beginning of "The Great Beyond". (Crank up the bass when you're playing it in the car, and those eighth notes will pierce right into your heart.)

On previous albums, he's done incredible keyboard work, like "Nightswimming" and "Electrolite".
Or he's played unconventional instruments, like recording different notes of his own voice onto a mixer, and playing different chords with it for the background of "Star Me Kitten".

On this current album, it's almost as if they went out of their way to obscure his voice instead of bringing it out.

There's a song called "Oh My Heart", for example. In the video where they're rehearsing, Mike has a harmony part AND a little melody part in the chorus where he's the only one singing after Stipe has finished. It's clear as day. On the CD version, though, they've muddied it up by distorting it and possibly adding other voices instead. They've ruined it.

Likewise, in the song "Mine Smell Like Honey", the rehearsal version lets us hear Mike's harmony very clearly in the chorus. (The part that starts with "Dig a hole, dig it deeper...")
But on the CD version, his voice is almost inaudible in that section.

What annoys me also is that they brought in "guest" vocalists. What the heck? Instead of bringing in outsiders, why not let us hear the talent you guys already have right there in front of you?

This guy is underrated and under-appreciated, in my opinion.
It frustrates me that the new album seems to sweep him under the rug.

Don't get me wrong, I also respect Michael Stipe and Peter Buck; Stipe has a unique, beautifully-soft-and-rough vocal timbre that makes his sound unmistakable and synonymous with REM. Buck is an excellent guitarist who plays with a lot of energy and skill. According to the notes on one of the CD covers, Buck also wrote the melodies for two of my favorite REM songs ("Try Not To Breathe" and "Drive").

But I hope Mike Mills does a solo album soon. He deserves it.

One additional rant before I leave you alone:

(And hopefully this won't cheapen everything I've just finished saying.)

Mike Mills used to have gorgeous long curly blond hair. His natural color is brown, but he lightened it sometime in the late 90's. I love it that way. I love the long curly blond style he had. It made me smile and swoon and all that other good stuff.

He's cut it all off.

In the back, it's super short, right close to the neck. No more perfect golden waves.
So ordinary. So plain and uninspired-- the very opposite of his music.
Plus he's starting to go gray, and doesn't seem interested in changing it.

I love Mike and his singing and his music, but (and it pains me greatly to say this), right now I can't stand his hair. I realize this makes me sound horribly shallow, and I'm semi-embarrassed about that.

Here's what it looked like before:
(click to enlarge)

And here's what he looks like right now:
Please grow your hair back.
I'm begging you.

The shorthaired picture above was from a video which was shot last year, I think.
I see from more recent videos that he has indeed grown his hair longer in back again.

Thank you, Mike.
Forget all that hairy ranting I did earlier.

Though I meant the part about you deserving a solo album. :)

I hate to admit this, but the more I listen to Collapse Into Now, the more I really like it.
In fact, it's becoming one of my favorites.
I STILL emphasize that it doesn't showcase Mike Mills enough, but other than that, yeah... it's a good album. One of their best.
There, I said it.

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