“Hi. We know Kirsten Dunst, and you do not.”
Edward Okulicz: R.E.M.’s final single is below-par for their career as a whole, pretty good compared to their post-New Adventures in Hi-Fi output, and about average for final songs by great bands. Michael Stipe has never quite sounded comfortable in sweet, fond mode but at least he’s found a sympathetic arrangement replete with Bacharach-esque horn bits. The song petering out with a bunch of aahs is a little weak, though.
Sally O’Rourke: R.E.M. used to be masters of recasting ’60s pop through modern rock’s immediacy and drive, which makes their final single’s feeble Bacharach-isms and half-hearted melody all the more disappointing. On the plus side, anyone still stinging over the loss of potentially more great R.E.M. records will find their affliction miraculously occurred.
Alfred Soto: Indifferent to these lads’ midtempo plaints since the late Clinton administration, I got soft remembering their legacy. For once, a late period song gets an arrangement worthy of their ambition, and Michael Stipe’s croaks really sound like the aural equivalent of tasting the ocean on skin. But as a whole the song is rather soft: nostalgia informed by the breakup most of us thought was ten years too late.
Jonathan Bradley: As unfair as it may be to bring up “Radio Free Europe” — we all change, we all grow older — nothing about this suggests a return to an origin or fundamental essence. “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” is a once-great band’s lounging drift into the annals of history. To be kind, I might say that it’s pretty, and the soft pep of the horns recalls something Belle and Sebastian did far better back when Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, and Peter Buck were writing their last interesting album. (Up, for the record.) I fell in love with R.E.M. in 1996, when their career to date had been driven by an unerring and bold sense of purpose. That band fittingly died with “Electrolite,” and even though its subsequent incarnation has had moments of loveliness, it’s always seemed to exist simply because its remaining members had nothing better to do. This final single is, appropriately, the sound of three men running out of answers to “Why not?”
Brad Shoup: Having decided long ago to exchange one increasingly marginalized American institution for another, I’ve long since cast my lot with baseball. In a move eerily similar to Glen Campbell’s, our $80 million men ride out into AM country-pop gold. Mills’ bass sells the goodbye the strongest, while the plastic orchestra does its best to turn Stipe’s throat-clearing into a grand bow. Of course, this is the final single, not the final track, but maybe we’re supposed to mourn the last brood of radio rockers and switch off our dials for good.
Anthony Easton: In Warhol’s screen tests, there was no movement, or at least Warhol prescribed a kind of blankness so that the camera became the only witness. Although the video quotes the screen tests, there is too much movement in Kirsten Dunst, and it becomes distracting. This might be a metaphor for R.E.M. They have not crawled into my head the same way that Sonic Youth, for example, has, and I think it is because not only are the referents much cleaner on this track there is too much movement and too much self-conscious noting where the strings are. Stipe’s voice is beautiful and the writing is as mournful as any document noting the death of a decades-long relationship should be. It’s politely effective, but lovely for the sake of pretty negates the source code.
Alex Ostroff: It’s a nice enough elegy — classy and orchestral with a hint of Bacharach in the flutes. After nearly three decades of making music together, I suppose it’s better to go out with a pleasant enough strum-along whimper like “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” than another attempt to recapture their glory days (see: Accelerate). Still, if the last I ever hear from them before we all go back to Rockville is Michael Stipe singing through a fog about dreaming you and I and all of us were elephants, I’ll take it.
Ian Mathers: I don’t know, do I have to justify this? Context still counts, right? Does it help my credibility if I’m generally a fan of late-period R.E.M., if something like “Imitation of Life” (which this is thematically and emotionally a cousin of) is one of my favourite songs of theirs? Does it hurt my credibility if I wholeheartedly approve of their “no, we’re done, we loved it and we’re not going back” stance and devoutedly hope that they stick with it? What about if I just think this is a gorgeous song, one that tries to say something lovely and true? What if I liked the video? What if I think the strain in Stipe’s voice registers equally and oppositely as emotion and the kind of slippage that warrants hanging it up? Is this really what I want? Well, as another band said, you can’t always get what you want. But I think I just got what I needed.