R.E.M.'s twelfth studio album,
Reveal, is a formulaic, banal adventure
in low-fi that, while a refreshing break from the usual
radio tripe, is playing it safe in a very comfortable,
non-threatening sandbox. That R.E.M. created the very
formula to which they now prescribe is a testament to their
greatness - that Reveal is so
uncompromisingly dull is a testament to
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain,
and all of the
rock giants who had the decency to check out before they
embarrassed themselves by living out the December of their
artistic life regurgitating their greatest hits, only with
different titles, and possibly in a different
Am I being overly harsh? Let me tell you,
true believers, it pains me to lay all of this out for you
like this. R.E.M. is my favourite band, but listening
to Reveal makes me ill, and a little
Perhaps I am being harsh. Reveal
isn't a bad album - but it's a
disappointment. I'm not an oldster who laments the
R.E.M. of old, before they "cashed-in" and had huge
hits. I don't begrudge them their multi-million
dollar contract with Warner Bros. For the record,
their New Adventures in Hi-Fi is my favourite
album of all time, displacing their Automatic for the
People from that position in my own internal
chart. I even liked Monster, when fans and
critics abandoned their foray into harder rock (although,
being R.E.M., it wasn't exactly a head-banger). Their
previous effort, Up, the first album that they
made without drummer Bill Berry, was a little flat, a
little off, but was a new direction for the band.
Reveal is a rehash of the mediocrity they
established with Up, only a tad cheerier, and
without the novelty of being the first album of the "new"
Reveal is actually somewhat
pleasant. I can imagine playing it in the background
while doing some work (as I'm doing now) and having it not
be at all distracting. Do youwant a track by track run-down?
That'll unfortunately mean that I have to listen to the
album again, but of course you know that I always suffer
The album opens with some interesting synth work
that shows promise, but by the middle of "The Lifting" my
hopes already started sinking. It's actually one of
the better openers to an R.E.M. album in recent history,
but it stays on the same level that it started, never going
anywhere. The first track is emblematic of the whole
album - it's a journey without a
The second track, "I've Been High," is another
snooze-fest, lacking any change in dynamics (or any
discernible melody - besides the now-usual "talk-sing"
drone that singer Stipe seems to have developed in recent
I was heartened that the third track, "Reno,"
sounded a lot like the first track from Hi-Fi (as
I affectionately abbreviate my favourite album), "How the
West Was Won and Where it Got Us" but with a loungier
vibe. Unfortunately, like the sketch writers at
Saturday Night Live, they don't know when the song
should end, and "Reno" goes on for a minute or two too
long. Pity. "She Just Wants" has lifeless
verses that actually outshine the even deader and more
I actually rather like the fifth track,
"Disappear." It sounds like something that you might
find on their highly superiour debut,
Murmur. Of course, if I want to hear songs
that sound like Murmur I'll just listen to
Murmur. The next track "Saturn Returns" is
also a welcome change - sung in "Tongue" falsetto, the
verses pull against the sparse piano and ambient guitar
noise via the barely audible Peter Buck.
shines like a happy person on this entire album, showing
that the bassist is a genius at keyboard layering and
arrangement. Still, R.E.M. have never been known for their
instrumental virtuosity, but rather their song-writing, and
even Mills's flashes of brilliance on Reveal don't
make up for the general flatness of the compositions.
Maybe it's time for a Mike Mills solo album.
Michael Stipe is what he is. He's at his
most Stipe-iness here. His lyrics have actually been
improving with each album, even if his singing has remained
as pubescently angsty as always. "All I Want" is the
follow-up to Up's "At My Most Beautiful," although
without the gorgeous arrangement and freshness of the
latter. R.E.M. have listed Brian Wilson and the Beach
Boys as an inspiration, but we'd do best to skip the
imitators and go straight for the source. Thwack
Pet Sounds onto your turntable (I know people
don't really use turntables anymore, but it's hard to
"thwack" something into a CD player) and kick back for a
more enjoyable listening experience.
The first single, "Imitation of Life," is the
bastard step-child to their previous single, "The Great
Beyond," a song that the band recorded for the Man on
the Moon soundtrack (which incidentally was better
than anything on Up, and a good omen of things to
come, even if our expectations have been let down by
Reveal). "Imitation" is the only upbeat song
on the album, and would be a listenable filler-track on
other R.E.M. albums. On Reveal, it's a
"Summer Turns to High" is another
Wilson-fest. "Chorus & the Ring" is another
tune-less dirge whose only contribution to the album is to
offer guilt-free skippage, thus shortening the album's
playing time by four and a half minutes. "I'll Take
the Rain" is another jangly melody-less dirge. The
closing track, "Beachball" starts off promisingly enough,
but the Herb Alpert style horns are just fancy
windowdressing for another dirgefest. It's not a bad
album. It's just bland.
When Bill Berry left the band (as well as
producer Scott Litt, who may have been a more creative
force behind the band's Warner Bros. years than I
realised), the band ceased to be the R.E.M. of old and
became something else. That's fine by me. I'm
glad that they didn't simply crank out more Out of
Times after their unlikely hit "Losing My Religion"
propelled them from college-rock obscurity to stadium
stardom. But are they now going to release
Up over and over again? Reveal
reveals that the answer is yes. Let's hope that the
next three remaining albums on their contract don't make
daysleepers of us all.
Don't believe me?
Buy a copy from Amazon.com and hear
for yourself. Or better yet,
buy a copy of New Adventures in
Hi-Fi and treat yourself to an R.E.M.
with a pulse.
Reveal hits the streets Tuesday, 15 May 2001.