By Mike Tierney
Almost every songwriter/performer was born with a finite amount of original music inside him/her. At some point, a limit is reached, and subsequent efforts are either a desperate reach for originality or a recycling of previous gems.
Steve Earle, a Hall of Famer in my book, just released I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Normally, I would be fetching a copy before it has settled into the store's bin.
But because I sense that Earle has covered all the rock 'n'' roll ground that he is capable of, I have resisted. (Perhaps to his credit, he has veered off into a home-y, acoustic area, which I welcome only in small doses.)
With similar trepidation, I picked up R.E.M.'s recent release Collapse Into Now. Frankly, I'd be fine if the lads kept regurgitating certain types of tunes until they became a lounge act. This record features one of those "Mine Smelled Like Honey," that offers a template for the perfect pop song.
Yet these selections are nearly all direct descendants of previous numbers. Michael Stipe, while still remarkably full-throated and mellifulous, follows all-too-similar vocal paths.
Their balance has gradually tilted toward slower songs, no doubt a reflection of age (and possibly an effort to make Stipe's often garbled lyrics easier to decipher.) So, artistically, good for them.
I wonder, though, if R.E.M. has covered all of the unexplored rock 'n' roll territory that it was gifted. This is a good record, but not one I will dig out 10 years from now, as I will their masterpieces of yore.
You never know what you'll get on Tuesdays with Tierney, other than the straight skinny on rock 'n' roll.