Something screwy is going on here. One listen and you’d be forgiven for passing this off as hit-fishing, or even bubblegum. After all, why so much production? The band was fine without it. And what an awkward start, an venture into funk that might make you squint at your speakers. Out of Time? Try Out of Nowhere.
But play it again, then perhaps once more, and you can see what Stipe is doing lyrically, and with more articulation than ever before. Instead of singing overtly about love (which “seemed so silly, and low”), he casts a net over the swath of moods it evokes. Joy? Sure. Then shame, incredulity, optimism. The violins and cellos match each emotion, whether by soaring in “Near Wild Heaven,” or wailing in “Country Feedback.” It feels like Murmur, in that it can’t be easily compared to any other album in the band’s discography. Quirky yet impactful.
And “Shiny Happy People” is great. Get over it.
[“Loosing My Religion”, “Near Wild Heaven”, “Shiny Happy People”, “Half a World Away”, “Country Feedback”]