R.E.M.

Around the Sun (Warner Bros.)

Judging by its recent sales figures, R.E.M. doesn't matter much anymore--but members Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills hope to prove otherwise. They're part of Vote for Change, a pro-Dem tour that finds them teaming with Bruce Springsteen and other veteran lefties. On Around the Sun, meanwhile, they tackle big subjects such as 9-11 ("Leaving New York") and criticize George W. and the Patriot Act via the "Final Straw" lines "Who died and lifted you up to perfection?/And what silenced me is written into law."

If only. Sun aims for the sort of focused melancholy that marked 1992's Automatic for the People, an album that earned its pretentiousness but with a topical twist. In the end, though, the disc is little more than a sonically monochromatic drag. The tempos of these 13 songs range from sleepy to turgid--even "High Speed Train" moves like molasses--and while "Wanderlust" sports the sort of highbrow pop sensibility that made Reveal, the combo's 2001 effort, intermittently listenable, most of the other arrangements are ornate but empty. Typical is "The Outsiders," which makes guest star Q-Tip seem uncool simply for participating.

Wanna vote for change? Then vote for a better CD.

 
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