It can be said that the current R.E.M. is less a full-time band and more a part-time supergroup. The members - particularly Michael Stipe - have of late been investing an equal amount of time into side interests, political causes, and personal breaks. This has resulted in increasing lag times between albums and an overall loss of artistic Focus. It is all evident in the broad, studio-bound feel of "Around The Sun". The band's continuing refusal to write straight-forward rock songs has now become downright frustrating; fans expecting a carry-over of the bouyent playfulness of "Bad Day" (from the 2003 Best-Of) will surely be disappointed by this album's mid-tempo pacing, languid demeanour, and reliance on studio frills.
The first side of the album is moderately satisfying. Single "Leaving New York" and piano ballad "Make it All O.K." fit nicely with R.E.M.'s previous material, while the sleek and synthetic electro-groves of "The Outsiders" and "Electron Blue" have the band moving in interesting directions. However, the second half of the album is surprisingly mediocre. It is stocked with sullen dirges ("High Speed Train", "Worst Joke Ever") and sentimental pop songs ("Aftermath", the title track) that fall well below the band's high standards. The album's one consistant pleasure turns out to be Stipe's voice, which has lost none of its richness or resonance over the years. Still, "Around The Sun" remains something I thought would never exist: a genually dissapointing R.E.M. album.