Home Read Classic Album Review: R.E.M. | Reveal

Classic Album Review: R.E.M. | Reveal

The Georgia icons offer more new adventures in hi-fi on their second Berry-less set.

479

This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


It’s a pity R.E.M. already used the title Fables Of The Reconstruction — if there ever was an album that deserved it, it’s this one.

Reveal is the Athens, Ga., outfit’s second album since the departure of drummer Bill Berry. But in many ways, this 53-minute document feels more like a new beginning than 1998’s Up. Despite its title, that sucker was a downer, a disjointed set from a band obviously in search of a new direction but apparently unable to reach consensus, vacillating between moody ballads and electronic experiments. With the similarly bittersweet but more cohesive Reveal, however, they seem to have settled on a sound for the new millennium (or at least for now) — orchestral electro-pop.

Doesn’t sound like the R.E.M. of old? Well, fair enough. Reveal’s 12 gauzy tracks bear no resemblance to the jangly college-rock of Radio Free Europe or the jingly roots-pop of Shiny Happy People. As on Up, ballads dominate the proceedings. First single Imitation Of Life is twice as heavy as any other song, and it ain’t exactly Paranoid, y’know? And just like on Up, keyboards dominate these ballads, swooshing and swirling and squishing and squiggling and buzzing and burbling throughout most of this disc.

All of that wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t steal the spotlight from nimble guitarist Peter Buck, who keeps getting pushed further back in the songs. On too many cuts, he seems to exist on par with the background strings, providing atmosphere with gentle acoustic chording, ethereal arpeggios and the odd bit of fuzzy buzzing. Bassist Mike Mills’ high-wire vocals are equally conspicuous by their absence. And as for the drums, well, Berry’s capable shoes still haven’t been filled by the hired gun and drum machines that anchor these songs.

Despite all that, Reveal isn’t quite as disappointing as Up. It’s certainly more coherent, flowing effortlessly from song to song without jarring edges or inconsistencies. Going from the lightly stumbling, echo-flecked pop of The Lifting to the freeze-dried, Mobyesque electronica of I’ve Been High to the Twin Peaks twang ’n’ castanets of All The Way To Reno is as easy as lazing in a hammock. Of course, some might say it’s also about as challenging. But even though none of these songs ranks among the band’s finest moments, some — especially the Brian Wilson-influenced ballad Summer Turns To High, the folksy She Just Wants To Be and the continental lounge-core of Beachball — sneak up on you after a while.

Meanwhile, in contrast, Michael Stipe’s vocals have never been more immediately accessible. After two decades of slurring and mumbling, here you can make out every syllable of his existential meditations on the album’s central theme: to be or not to be. “Tell me why you’re here / I came to disappear,” is the Zen koan chorus to one track. “She just wants to be somewhere / She just wants to be,” explains the haiku-like refrain of another. Talk about the passion. And talk about New Adventures In Hi-Fi — which woulda been another fine title if it weren’t already taken too.