In an ongoing attempt to understand why I'm interested (and not interested) in hearing new records by long-running artists, I present a timely example.
Tomorrow sees the official release of two albums by bands that were huge for me at certain points in my life. R.E.M. releases their fourteenth album, Accelerate, and Sun Kil Moon releases their third album, April. Despite some glowing reviews of Accelerate, April was the one I wanted to hear. But I wonder why, as I wasn't expecting Mark Kozelek to pull out some bold record that drastically differs from his solo work, Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon. And plus, why give a cold shoulder to R.E.M.? Let me compare my stories.
I was too young for R.E.M.'s formative years as I was four when Murmur came out. I watched MTV's Rockumentary on the band plenty of times in the early Nineties, but never ventured far into their back catalog. Instead, I followed them closely between Document all the way to Up. '91's Out of Time and '92's Automatic for the People sealed the deal for me as a fan of the band, but by Up, I was starting to lose interest. Despite liking a few choice tracks from Reveal, I was pretty much done with wanting to hear new R.E.M. No jumping the shark nonsense or blaming the departure of Bill Berry as to why -- I just had enough.
It's not that I grew sick of Michael Stipe's voice, Mike Mills' harmonies and bass playing or Peter Buck's guitar playing. I just grew less and less enthused about each new album. Don't we all have listener fatigue -- even with our all-time favorite bands? I do.
In the case of Mark Kozelek's various projects, I don't think for one second he's gonna pull out something drastically different with each new record. Hell, I think the only times I've been surprised was when I heard the loud, distorted version of "Mistress" and the guitar-heavy album, Songs for a Blue Guitar, for the first time. His previous Sun Kil Moon record consisted entirely of drastically reworked Modest Mouse covers, and despite zero surprises in the instrumentation department, I loved it. Something about his voice mixed with his music keeps coming back, including new releases.
Listening to April, I keep thinking about Red House Painters' final album, Old Ramon. It builds and it's slow, and sometimes, there's a great payoff. Then there's a sublime song like "Moorestown," which I think is up there with the Vanilla Sky version of "Have You Forgotten?" It's a track like that makes me want to hear the rest of the album.
Maybe my fatigue comes from how long I've been listening to Kozelek and R.E.M. I've been listening to R.E.M. since 1987 while I didn't hear my first Red House Painters song until 2001. The person I was in 1987 (a third-grader) and the person I was in 2001 (a soon-to-be college graduate) were pretty different, but not drastically different.
I've heard plenty about how Accelerate is a return to form, but I've been skeptical. Reading Jim's review today, a number of my doubts are confirmed as he addresses this right away. "We've heard this before -- with Monster (1994), with Up (1998) and even with the dreadfully dull Around the Sun four years ago," he wrote. "It wasn't true then, and it isn't entirely true now."
If anything, I think I can come to this conclusion: I'm still very happy with a number of R.E.M.'s albums, but trying to cultivate an interest in their newest stuff would take a lot of prying by others to get there. Despite an interest in hearing more of April (and more Sun Kil Moon records in the future), I have yet to tire of them. Chalk it up to different strokes, I guess.