"For better or worse, the current state of the world has had a profound impact on the way I'm writing," says the singer, who is in the midst of finishing up the record in Miami with guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills. "But this isn't a downer of a record. Even the most depressing R.E.M. song is going to have a glimmer of hope in it. That's just me, I can't help myself. But there's some stuff on here that's pretty hard-core, and fairly political."
The political tracks include a fleshed-out version of the Internet-only release "Final Straw," which was written prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and "I'm Gonna DJ," about the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle, but the Iraqi war served as the creative impetus for much of the new material.
"At this time, as an American, I feel like the angriest pacifist in the world, and I don't think I'm alone in that," says Stipe. "It's not an easy time to live through.
R.E.M. dabble in more than just politics, as Stipe characterizes "Leaving New York" as a love song and "Wanderlust" as a pop song. "There's been a lot of pop music in 2004 that's really seductive, and you don't have to think all that much about it," he says. "I'm all for that."
The album -- produced by Pat McCarthy, who handled 1998's Up and 2001's Reveal -- features the debut of R.E.M.'s new full-time drummer, former Ministry basher Bill Rieflin.
"Peter brought him in," says Stipe. "He thought he could pull us in a different direction, and [Rieflin] really responds to the singer, which is great."
The band has yet to plot tour plans for the fall, but Stipe promises that either he or the band will continue to work with political organizations like MoveOn.org up until the election "in some capacity." In the meantime, he's looking forward to the reaction that fans will have to the group's new-found anger.
"It may be the most chaotic bunch of songs we've ever thrown together," he says. "They're going to surprise our fans and shock others."
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