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Albums Of The Week: R.E.M. | New Adventures In Hi-Fi 25th Anniversary Edition

The Georgia alt-rockers' 10th album returns, augmented by 13 B-sides & rarities.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “First released in September 1996, New Adventures In Hi-Fi endures as one of R.E.M.’s most acclaimed albums and stands as a favorite among band members and fans alike. The album was a global success, achieving platinum certification in the U.S. and peaking at No.2 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, the album went to No.1 in more than a dozen countries, including Australia, the U.K., and Canada. Critically, New Adventures In Hi-Fi received wide praise and was named as one of the best albums of the year by multiple outlets. Over the decades, the title has achieved cult status, with several press retrospectives ranking it among the top albums in R.E.M.’s rich catalog of releases.

Recorded at the height of their fame, New Adventures in Hi-Fi also marks R.E.M.’s final album with drummer and founding member Bill Berry, who left the group amicably the following year. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is that the album found the band taking a unique creative approach: Writing and recording much of the LP on the road, during their 1995 Monster tour.

While writing new material on the road wasn’t an unusual feat for R.E.M., New Adventures was unlike anything they had done before. As they embarked on tour, the band sought to create an abstract travelogue documenting every emotion and experience as it happened. “We wanted to make a record about being on the road without singing about being on the road,” bassist Mike Mills explains in the liner notes. “The idea was that the feeling of being on the road would come through in the sound and feel of the record itself.”

The band traveled with a mobile recording truck, capturing new songs on an 8-track during soundchecks (as well as in various backstage areas and on the tour bus). “The idea was, ‘Let’s challenge ourselves,’” guitarist Peter Buck says. “My feeling was, it’ll show exactly where we’re at right now in a way that maybe some of the records don’t at all. This record was just an attempt to be who we were at that minute.”

The year-long outing, which began in January 1995, marked R.E.M.’s first tour in six years. As one of the biggest bands in the world, the quartet played to packed arenas across North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan, with support from acts like Sonic Youth and Radiohead. But along the way, the tour was marred by medical emergencies. In March, Berry collapsed on stage from an aneurism and spent the next month recuperating. Mills, meanwhile, underwent intestinal surgery in June. A month later, Stipe had emergency surgery for a hernia (which, he asserts, occurred while performing the song Undertow).

Photo by Chris Bilheimer.

After the band returned from the eventful — yet highly successful — run of dates, they entered the studio with their longtime producer Scott Litt to record a few final tracks and put finishing touches on others. Among them was the epic, seven-minute-long Leave; E-Bow the Letter, featuring backing vocals from legendary singer-songwriter Patti Smith; New Test Leper, which Buck proclaims is his favorite R.E.M. song; and How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us, one of several songs inspired by Stipe’s experiences living in Los Angeles.

New Adventures In Hi-Fi marked R.E.M.’s longest studio album, with a total run-time of 65 minutes. Filled with cinematic storytelling, haunting effects, and dissonant notes, New Adventures In Hi-Fi found R.E.M. exploring diverse sonic territories — particularly in songs like Low Desert, which, Berry describes as “just dusty and kind of slow and it’s swampy … I feel isolated when I listen to that song, but it’s a good thing.” Stipe adds that the song offers such questions as, “‘What are we doing in the desert? What are we doing in the American West? What are we doing in this unlivable, uninhabitable place?’” Other tracks like Departure and The Wake-Up Bomb deliver classic R.E.M. rock vibes.

The band looks back on New Adventures in Hi-Fi with great pride. Buck, perhaps, sums it up best. “Most records, you go in the studio and you just do ’em. And years later all you really remember is vaguely where you stayed, and the songs and the recording process. But this one I remember every bit of it. It was an experience. It was f**king tough, but we made a record. And it was as challenging as anything I’ve ever done.”

The bonus-filled Deluxe Edition offers a trove of audio-visual content, including the newly remastered album, 13 B-sides and rarities, a never-before-released 64-minute outdoor projection film (shown on buildings across five cities in 1996 to promote the album’s release), and a previously unreleased 30-minute EPK. Additionally, the Blu-ray features New Adventures In Hi-Fi in stunning hi-res and 5.1 Surround Sound audio, plus five HD-restored music videos including Bittersweet Me, Electrolite, and E-Bow the Letter. Housed in a 52-page hardcover book, the collection includes archival photographs — many of which have never been published — plus new liner notes from journalist Mark Blackwell and reflections from all four original band members, as well as from Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, and producer Scott Litt.”