In the late 1980's, R.E.M. became known as the founders of the American alternative rock scene. They found a way to blend diverse styles such as punk, folk, and pop together to produce a light, jangly sound that was completely original at the time, yet still chock-full of good hooks that kept fans looking for more. In 1988, they were finally signed to a major label, and by 1992, they were arguably the biggest rock band in the world with the release of their masterpiece Automatic for the People
. Everything was looking up for the Athens, Georgia-based quartet. But Monster
loomed on the horizon. Often considered the start of their demise, the 1994 album (which I think is quite good) was considered weak and cheesy. New Adventures in Hi-Fi
was a slight consolation to the older fans, but soon thereafter, drummer Bill Berry (and his infamous mondo-brow) retired from the band to become a farmer. Likewise, the 1998 album Up
was considered anything but a turn in the right direction.
This is the background behind Reveal
, the red-headed stepchild of R.E.M. albums. It was received with mixed results. Some people, such as Nacho considered it to be the nadir of the band's career. Others though it was a step in the right direction; Amazon.com even considered it a best of 2001 album. As for myself, I fall somewhere in between. I found it along with Out of Time
in the bargain bin at Media Play for a combined $8.00 (USD). Being an avid fan, I quickly snatched the albums up and bought them.
is quite a difficult record to get. I was expecting something similar to the type of material released from R.E.M.'s late-'80's heyday. What I got was quite different. I quickly went the route of most people who bought the album, leaving it to rot near the bottom of my CD stack. However, once I moved into my college dorm, I started listening again. Call it boredom, hometown pride, or insanity, but I started to appreciate the album more and more with each listen.
In short, this is R.E.M. for adults; Reveal
is their Fettuccini Alfredo compared to Life's Rich Pageant's
mac-'n-cheese sound. Gone are the hyper songs about Superman and the end of the world. Often called a Michael Stipe album, it's much lighter, more produced, and lyrically clear than the albums of the '80's. Though different from the R.E.M. of old, it shows how a band that has released seventeen albums evolves over their 20+ year career matures.
On first listen, you'll notice that the album is very relaxed and ambient-sounding. There are even some tracks like I've Been High
that are entirely done with electronics. Overall, though, the album may quickly turn you off with its drastically different sound for R.E.M. However, one of my suggestions is to listen to it with headphones. You'll start to notice some extra background ambient noises and other subtle things. From the upbeat (for this album) The Lifting
through the calm, Brian Wilson-esque Beachball
, you hear a light, adult alternative album that will grow on you after a few listens. No, it isn't the vintage R.E.M. we all love, but if you try not to approach it as an old-style R.E.M. album, you may find yourself liking it.
Although I generally praise the album, it's quite obviously not the best one they have done, as it is quite inconsistent in some places. Overall, it is definitely a mood album, so it isn't versatile at all. Some tracks, such as All the Way to Reno
drag on so long, you really think you're going to be in Reno by the time you're finished. When the album hits, it hits dead-on, but when it misses, it really fails. This is one of the reasons it isn't among my top albums by the group.
All in all, this album could be easily enjoyed while just kicking back and relaxing on a rainy day. The light, airy sound definitely has the potential for adverse reactions by old-school fans who are thinking that it will be another Murmur
. If that's what you are looking for, stay away from this album and find something else. However, if you look at the album as a work on its own, you'll see that it realy isn't as bad as some people say.
R.E.M. proves they are maturing
Strong Tracks are very good
Has a unique sound for the time period
Does not sound like the R.E.M. of old
Very inconsistent and not versatile
Weak tracks are very weak
She Just Wants to Be
Beat a Drum
Imitation of Life
I'll Take the Rain