300-Word Music Review Hat Trick: Rise Against, Radiohead, and R.E.M.

This, along with all the pictures in this post, are obviously taken of me looking at
itunes, and therefore a bit crappy. I kind of like this one, though.

These three groups have a couple things in common, among them the fact that they all start with the letter R, and they all recently released an album that I’m having trouble coming to terms with. Instead of just thinking about them, I’m putting down three quick reviews and commentaries on these albums. I’d love to hear what you think if you’ve listened to any of these groups’ new offerings.
Rise Against: Endgame
I got this album from amazon.com. It came with a digital booklet, which is basically a PDF of the liner notes. That went a long way to helping me appreciate this album, since I’m normally horrible at understanding lyrics. (Another interesting point from the liner notes: Apparently this album was recorded in Fort Collins? Who knew?) 
Sonically, this album is in the same vein as the group’s album Appeal to Reason. I must say that I really like Appeal, and although that may immediately mark me as a sell-out or a “Lite” version of a Rise Against fan, so be it. It’s never been my aspiration to be a hardcore fan of this group. Where this album differs from Appeal, though, is in its lack of constant musical hooks. All of the songs on Endgame are very competent and sound good, but there are only one or two points where a specific song pulls me in. With Appeal to Reason, that happened on almost every song, and the hooks were different enough to help me separate each song into an individual entity. Endgame flows well from song to song and is better appreciated as a unit.
For me the highlight of this album is a spoken word segment on “Survivor Guilt” (which says a lot, since spoken word overlays and skits are often the stupidest part of some albums). Apparently, the dialogue is from the movie Catch-22, which I’ve somehow never seen, despite the novel being my favorite book. One man says, “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” to which the other responds, “You have it backwards; It’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.” I think I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking about that, now.
Radiohead: King of Limbs

I’ve had a small email “conversation” with my brother Paul in response to these albums. His comment on Limbs was that since it’s a digital release, maybe it’s not being held to the same standards as a widely-released, conventional album. He compared it to NIN’s Ghosts, saying that they seemed more experimental. I think he was right on.
I’ve listened to this album at least 10 times, and each time it’s been underwhelming. It’s the musical equivalent of Costa Rican cuisine: You’re hungry, so you hotly anticipate it, and it looks good from afar. When you sit down to consume it, it’s not quite what you expected. After all, you’ve tried Mexican tacos and they were great, so what are these weird, fried cylinders that they call tacos? (Track 2, “Morning Mr Magpie,” is the taco.) And what’s with all this damn rice? Plain, white rice (Tracks 1, 4, 6, and 7, “Bloom,” “Feral,” “Codex,” and “Give Up The Ghost,” respectively)?? Well, that depressing, defeatist rice is what holds the meal together. It’s basically filling. It’ll keep you alive if necessary, but it’s not going to do it with any pomp or circumstance.
The possible highlight is track 3 (“Little By Little,” aka a surprisingly tasty tamal prepared only for a special occasion), but it’s so overshadowed by all the rice and the raw, chopped cabbage that you’ve previously forced down, that you hardly notice that it’s good. And to finish, there’s a mediocre dessert (obviously, coconut flan or if you’re lucky, arroz con leche; that’s “Separator,” which is partially only good because it’s got so much sugar added to it, which makes a good contrast to the previously salty offerings).
It’s not bad, but this is surely Radiohead’s most unremarkable album (and yes, I’m including Pablo Honey and Amnesiac).
R.E.M.: Collapse Into Now
Full Disclosure: R.E.M. is likely my favorite band. But so are Guns N’ Roses and Radiohead. Because of that, I’m likely holding R.E.M. to an unrealistically-high standard. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this album, but not as much as I hoped I would.
There seems to be a general consensus that the band’s preceding album, Accelerate, was great. I form part of that consensus. It picked you up right at the beginning and carried you all the way to the end. Collapse starts off strong with “Discoverer” and keeps the momentum going through track 2, but by track 3, “ÜBerlin,” it’s already winded (although I’m willing to forgive it, since I heartily endorse umlauts in almost any form).
Then there are a couple of songs that don’t really stand out. By the time you get to track 7, “Mine Smell Like Honey,” you’re ready for an up-tempo song. It delivers, although the chorus comes out a bit nasal and strange. The following track, “Walk It Back,” literally walks back the momentum that the previous track just spent so much effort building up. Two other good songs follow, and then you’re at the final two songs. The last two, “Me, Marlon Brando, And I” and “Blue” are OK, but they seem to be going for a strong, melodic finish á la Automatic For The People, but neither of these two songs are the type of song I’d ever consciously put on a playlist, because they simply aren’t interesting.
Well, that’s my R.E.M. fangirl rant, so you can take it or leave it. The album is good, but if you’re looking to get into R.E.M., check out Automatic For The People, Accelerate, or even their recent live offering, Live at the Olympia, which has a nice mix of their newer and more traditional sounds.
So, there you have it: three 300-word reviews, a musical criticism hat trick, if you will. If you have heard any of these albums and agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
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Sitzman

Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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