Alternative rock would not be the same without REM. The influential band, which hails from Athens, Ga., has penetrated the rock pantheon with songs like “Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon,” and at the same time has changed its sound from album to album. Unfortunately, rock stars (especially rock artists) have the ability to stumble. Around the Sun, REM’s 13th full-length album, is unexpectedly sterile and boring for a group known for progressive tendencies.

The album is not entirely disappointing. Take “Final Straw,” for instance – a classic REM song, with folk guitars straight out of Automatic for the People and Michael Stipe’s cryptic lyrics. The track is also fleshed out with electronic programming and beats, which is reminiscent of their past experiments in Up.

It’s sad that the whole album couldn’t be this promising, though. Most of the songs are lost in down-tempo, drudging emotion. “Leaving New York,” the lead single, recalls the city yuppie fare of which REM has always been stereotyped. The instrumentation seems to belong on a Dido record, although Peter Buck’s chorus-laden guitar is at least making an effort. Q-Tip, the lead singer from A Tribe Called Quest, is just embarrassing in “The Outsiders,” a guest spot that doesn’t work and just doesn’t make sense. Only two of the 13 songs on this record – “Wanderlust” and “Aftermath” – try to be remotely energetic, which simply sucks for a band this passionate. Sorry, REM, but saccharine guitars and swelling vocals only go so far. Hopefully, they’ll reinvent themselves next time, as they always do.
[Matt Cappiello eats babies.]