Wednesday, April 11, 2012

R.E.M. 13: Reveal

In the ‘80s R.E.M. could be counted on for a new album every 12 months or so. Then they started taking their sweet time, and frankly, it’s just not satisfying to wait two-plus years for an album that’s not very good. That, unfortunately, was the case with Reveal, their second album without longtime drummer Bill Berry. Here they continue the sonic experimentation of Up, but the novelty’s worn thin.

Keyboards and drum machines abound, particularly on “The Lifting”, “All The Way To Reno” and “Beachball”, with kitschy instrumental and percussion effects right out of the Burt Bacharach playbook. Stipe’s ignorance of pop music history prevented him from realized he’d lifted the melody of “She Just Wants To Be” from a Turtles song.

Still, there are a few tracks with potential, and they come right in the middle of the album. “Saturn Return” would stand out with a little more dynamics on either side of it (and if No Doubt hadn’t referenced the same concept in an album title a year earlier). “Beat A Drum” comes from the same basic mold of “At My Most Beautiful”, resting on a pretty melody and good ol’ Mike Mills on piano. “Imitation Of Life” was the first single, dressed up with a classic strum and mumbled lyrics. “Chorus And The Ring” features enough of the old mystery until the synths overpower it. “I’ll Take The Rain” has a wonderful chorus, but uses up too much of its six minutes to get there.

A lot of work certainly went into Reveal. But too many of the songs sound alike to be distinguished from one another, falling right into a longtime complaint of their detractors. It also makes two albums in a row that don’t rock for the most part, something else we used to be able to rely on. Perhaps, just like their counterparts in U2, they’d become accustomed to selling records to people who bought them out of habit.

R.E.M. Reveal (2001)—

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