In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking songs that saw an artist bounce back after releasing a dud of a record.
R.E.M., “Horse To Water” (2008)
Expectations were awfully (and justifiably) low for R.E.M.’s 2008 album, Accelerate; the band had clearly run out of steam and inspiration on its previous record, 2004’s almost universally reviled Around The Sun. Determined, it seemed, to not retire on such a low note, the band roared back to life, trying its best to sound like the R.E.M. that people once loved. On a huge chunk of the album, they succeed. The whole thing is worth a listen, maybe starting with “Horse To Water,” a short, speedy song that recalls moments from the band’s classic Lifes Rich Pageant. All of the R.E.M. touchstones are there, including Mike Mills’ inimitable backing vocals and Peter Buck’s simplest, rockingest guitar tendencies. And Michael Stipe’s lyrics went wisely a little further back into nonsense (maybe that’s somesense) than the direct, occasionally preachy words of more recent years. To wit: “You stumble on glass top table / TV’s chewing shock-gone cable / Pump me up a beanstalk fable.” (Those are real.) It’s two minutes of full-bore rock-band R.E.M., something that hadn’t been witnessed in years, and something that fans might have thought had been completely subsumed starting with “Everybody Hurts.” But R.E.M. was, long before that, a great rock band, and it proved with that record—and bits of Collapse Into Now, its swan song—that it could still hit hard and fast.