R.E.M. get that blend of likeability and accessibility just right. They are one of the most popular bands on the planet and they did it in the right way, by starting off small and building to something enormous. Their greatest songs evoke emotion very deep while maintaining a rocking edge (“Catapult”, “The One I Love”, “What’s The Frequency Kenneth”, “The Man on the Moon”, “Losing my Religion”) but also a pop sensibility, mixed with artsy intensions (“It’s the End of the World as We Know It”, “Moral Kiosk”, “Fall on Me”, “Daysleeper”, “Electrolyte”). They try different things on their many records, but always remain themselves; the band definitely has their own style. The four members of the band are very distinct, and that brings a certain charm to their music. Not many bands have as many great albums as R.E.M., and hardly any band can boast that right mix of productivity and reverence. When asked the immortal question: “What kind of bands do you like?”, personally, R.E.M. is a band I can say and just about anyone knows what I’m talking about and I don’t betray my better judgement by not screaming my more, “acquired”, musical influences.
Bill Berry – drums (1982 – 1996)
Mike Mills – bass
Peter Buck – guitar
Michael Stipe – vocals
Life’s Rich Pageant
The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, The Soft Boys, Patti Smith, Wire
1983 – (5 / 5) – Murmur
1984 – (4.5 / 5) – Reckoning
1985 – (4 / 5) – Fables of the Reconstruction
1986 – (5 / 5)+ – Life’s Rich Pagent
1987 – (5 / 5) – Document
1988 – (3 / 5) – Green
1991 – (3.5 / 5) – Out of Time
1992 – (4.5 / 5) – Automatic For The People
1994 – (4.5 / 5) – Monster
1996 – (4 / 5) – New Adventures in Hi Fi
1997 – (2 / 5) – Up
2001 – (3 / 5) – Reveal
2003 – (1 / 5) – Around the Sun
2007 – (2.5 / 5) – Accelerate
2011 – (1.5 / 5) – Collapse Into Now
Murmur – (5 / 5)
R.E.M.’s first album is a relaxing jaunt into rock n’ roll. Their approach to rock music is very interesting as it sooths and rocks you at the same time. What I mean is, it has harder sounding rock songs as well as somber ones and they are mixed very well together. The songs found here are very verse-chorus verse in structure but there is nothing wrong with that; R.E.M. do not attempt to create the wheel merely perfect it. In fact, on Murmur, R.E.M. have made a new way to express music that combined their influences but also sounded new and fresh. Peter Buck’s lush guitar picking defined the term “jangle pop”; Mike Mills bass and Bill Berry’s drums kept things steady but surprising and lively; and everyone has a different opinion on what Michael Stipe is actually saying with his lyrics. They make the new wave style of music their own, and set a standard for everything alternative rock became after.
It starts off with the disco-ish rocker “Radio Free Europe”, defined by the above qualities and quite ethereal. The song is a call to arms of sorts; an anthem with a universal yearning to unite all listeners. The follow up “Pilgrimage”, is a more epic and tranquil tune, very influenced by the Talking Heads in musicianship (“speaking in tongues” being a prominent lyric throughout, the TH’s current album of the time). It is a song about a group of people taking their journey across a landscape, in this case a “musical landscape”, and a musical manifesto on how the band creates songs (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-chorus). This makes “Pilgrimage” one of the groups all time defining tracks. “Laughing” and “Sitting Still” are sailed forward by Buck’s guitar playing and often sounds like the perfect mix of Jimi Page and Roger Mcguinn. Those two songs gently roll along, unassuming but memorable (a trait R.E.M. firmly placed on the world, almost a passive/aggressive approach to song craft). “Moral Kiosk” and “9-9” are songs that bring in experimental elements such as dissonance, backwards guitar, indecipherable vocals, and odd time signatures. “Perfect Circle” and “Talk About the Passion” are the tender ballads, at first interchangeable but in time showing minute differences. “Catapult” is another defining hard ballad, with a more driving rock beat and perfectly placed guitar licks and drum fills. The album beings to teeter off unremarkably with “Shaking Through” and “We Walk”, minor songs only when compared to the nine songs before and still good songs in their own right. “West of the Fields” closes the record in a hard rocking fashion, being the most powerful rocker on the whole record and leaving the listener wanting more. The chorus of “west of the fields! west of the fields! long, gone, long, gone” stays in the head for days.
In all, Murmur marks a new take on rock music in 1983 which has many influences but a style all its own. The production by Mitch Easter is all encompassing, much like the first Velvet Underground LP or Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, and takes the listener to a very personal place. Whatever one may take from the solid band, at this point Stipe’s vocal style is the most unique quality. Very introverted and personal, there is also a sense of paranoia and fear of success present in the first R.E.M. record. What lies west of the fields? Tired of sitting still, where does the pilgrimage lead? Can one escape a circle of friends, or is life simply repeating an endless pattern like “9-9”? It takes a unique band to display these realms of emotion and bury them so deftly beneath layers of music. Needless to say, Murmur is one of the best rock debut albums ever, and quite a masterpiece.
Greatest Songs: Moral Kiosk, Pilgrimage, 9-9, Catapult
Reckoning – (4.5 / 5)
As far as substantial sophomore albums go, Reckoning is a keeper. At first listen, it doesn’t seem that great. Actually, at second and third glance my opinion didn’t approve that much of it, but oh the fourth glance! This album is mysteriously complex for a pop album as the songs are just on the verge of too weird or slow, but they actually fit just right. The album has a very singular kind of feel by giving the listeners a different side of R.E.M., and definitely shows them maturing in their own way. “Harborcoat” opens the record like it is going to play like Murmur part two with its echoing guitars, fast paced whirl of drums and bass, and confounding lyrics by Stipe. “Seven Chinese Brothers” and “South Central Rain” rely more on Peter Buck’s jangly guitar as the focal point, but are still effective melodic tunes reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock plus more soul. “Little America” in perhaps the closest thing to the raw punk verve found on earlier REM records, while “Second Guessing” and Letter Never Sent” rejuvenate interest when the weaker tracks slow the album down.
I don’t feel that this record is nearly as accessible as many of their others, “Camera” being a prime example of a song that takes time to appreciate. Some songs like “Pretty Persuasion” and “Time After Time” sound kind of worn out to me, and that is odd because “Pretty Persuasion” is one of their better known tracks for many diehard fans (though I have always thought it was average fare). For these minor inconsistencies, I wouldn’t call Reckoning a major achievement though some people think this is their best record. It is more akin to a Murmur part two and shows the band still has great ideas of the similar kind and can still occasionally surprise the listener (the closest thing the y ever did to a country song in “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville”. It is hard to say, but I will say it is a great album though not my personal favorite.
Greatest Songs: South Central Rain, Letter Never Sent, Rockville, Little America
Fables of Reconstructon – (3.5 / 5)
Fables of Reconstruction is the band’s least consistent record to date, but it does show they are trying new things. The more famous songs include “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”, “Maps and Legends”, and “Driver 8”, which are coincidentally the first three songs! This album also has its good share of the now-usual R.E.M. folk-rocking album tracks, “Green Grow the Rushes”, “Can’t Get There From Here”, and “Life and How To Live It”, which are all great. The first half of the record leaves an impression that this record will be as great as the first two albums, with the exception of “Old Man Kensey”, which tries a more dark, gloomy side to the band that does not work at all. Unfortunately, they repeat this for their last four songs on the record and “Kohoutek” through “Wendell Glee” are as boring and forgettable songs as I have ever heard on an REM record. This sharp dip in quality does not bode well for REM as an album band. For the die hards, there is plenty to enjoy on the six good songs on the record, but it bares that transitional tag oh so well. In the future they will probably need to tweak their sound so it does not grow stale.
Greatest Tracks: Driver 8, Life and How to Live It, Maps and Legends, Green Grow the Rushes
Life’s Rich Pagent – (5 / 5)+
With their 4th album, R.E.M. have revitalized their sound and created a rock masterpiece. From the rocking “Begin the Begin” to the end of the obscure 1960’s group Cliché cover “Superman”, this album is great all the way through. The lyrics written by Stipe also take a turn here, not only are they more topical and political at times, but they recreate a place you have visited before with stunning clarity, and Stipe really steps in to his heroes level with songs such as “Swan Swan H”, “Cuyahoga”, and “Flowers of Guatemala”. R.E.M. also shows that they can be a straight ahead rock band with the powerhouse rhythm section of Mills/Buck and Peter Buck who effortless changes between jangling guitar solos and riff rocking power chords; has there ever been a more emotionally uplifting record in rock n’ roll history?
To begin the album with such a stunning opener is great, though “Begin the Begin” is a grower of a song with its off kilter guitar riff and now very decipherable lyrics from the usually mumbling Michael Stipe (but you know, in a good way). Songs like “These Days”, “Hyena”, and “Just a Touch” show off R.E.M.’s punk rock side like better than anything prior has, and shows off the band’s jubilant energy.
Oddly, on the complete opposite side of the sonic spectrum there exist these four ballads: “Cuyahoga” about the famous polluted river, “Fall on Me” about the pain of living, “Swan Swan H” which recounts a tale from the civil war, and “The Flowers of Guatemala” about the government cover up, are the best ballads they EVER did as a band, and they play a yang to the yin of the more rocking tracks. “I Believe” and “What If We Give It Away” are the most traditional songs the band does, with the trademark Peter Buck guitar jangle shining through because of the bigger mainstream production (courtesy of Don Gehman). “Underneath the Bunker” serves as a short diversion and resting point in the middle and “Superman” at the end is one of the great optimistic album finishers of all time! The harmonies in that song will blow your mind! I cannot overstate enough that it is not a “party” record as some lazy critic’s state it to be, but one of great power and beauty.
None of REM’s albums are so easy to describe, and Life’s Rich Pageant is no different; there are layers upon layers of lyrical depth and painful pop music construction that make it all come across as easy when it is in fact very difficult to pull off. I will say the album is the best and most consistent mix of rockers and ballads that the band has made so far, even though it is not as atmospheric as any of their albums before it. The problem with that moody, atmospheric sound of the first three records is it had reached a kind of dead end by Fables of the Reconstruction, and this album gave the group a much needed jolt and stands with Murmur as a masterwork of depth and complexity. In my opinion, it’s the best record REM ever made.
Greatest Tracks: Swan Swan H, Fall On Me, The Flowers of Guatemala, These Days
Document – (5 / 5)
What should be said about R.E.M. is that structurally their songs are all fairly the same – verse-chorus two times, usually a bridge, then another verse – chorus. Now, this has no effect on how great the music is, and what their 5th album Document really does is perfect this sound to a science. In contains their biggest hit singles of the 80’s (“End of the World As We Know It” and “One I Love”) but contains so much more in terms of depth and complexity. Despite R.E.M.’s verse chorus verse structure, they have some albums that are very complicated. Document is an accumulation of everything that the band has done to this point, and that is important to know before listening with an open mind.
It comes off as one of their best albums because it adds to their template as well as expanding it. The first four songs are similar to Life’s Rich Pageant: the pounding anthem to end all anthems in “Finest Worksong”; the brilliant hybrid of melancholy and soaring harmonies that swirls around in “Welcome to the Occupation”; the political and allegorical almost funk rock of “Exhuming MCCarthy”; the epic guitar jangle of the should be hit “Disturbance at the Heron House” which is perhaps a little too abstract for radio airplay, this song contains maybe my favorite personal musical outro of any REM song (also worth mentioning are the words “Liberty and honor under the honor roll” is a lyric I have always loved). After that beautiful four song stretch comes “Strange”, a cover of a Wire song from their seminal Pink Flag album, and it really sounds kind of out of place on the record. While it is not a bad cover, it’s a little distracting between all the great original songs that surround it though I can’t fault the band for paying tributes to one of their musical influences. “Strange” is used as an epic track on Pink Flag and a change of pace of sorts, while on Document it serves as a minor detour and is not really necessary to the flow of the record.
But after that fumble comes “The End of the World As We Know It” and “The One I Love” which are R.E.M.’s biggest hits to this point in their career, and both are game changers. “EOTWAWKI”, as I am going to abbreviate it from now on haha, is sort of an update on Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for the new wave generation. The words and cultural references are said at lightning speed and then the chorus comes in and is repeated in a humorous and sarcastic tone. The song as a whole makes fun of the “meaning” of words and can be seen as a new form of song writing, bridging catchiness with absurdity. “The One I Love” was the band’s first # one single (whatever that is worth in the long run) and is able to confess a sense of longing and emotion better than any REM song to date, save “Fall on Me”. It is hard to believe that the band that started out with the shy and awkward Chronic Town EP only five years’ prior was able to conjure something this stadium ready.
The last four songs are kind of experimental: a nice mix of tribal drumming and chanting (“Lightnin’ Hopkins”), jazzy saxophones and odd time signatures (“Fireplace”, a slightly failed experiment but still a song I enjoy), a martial Byrds tribute (the awe inspiring “King of Birds”) and Sonic Youth style dementia, almost venturing into noise rock (“Oddfellows Local”). The last third of the album is difficult then the first part, but it fuels the album forward and increases the resonance of the record once you get used to them. It is not quite as consistent as Life’s Rich Pagent but is also not as old fashioned, daring to try some radical styles and ideas on for size. All and all, Document is R.E.M.’s most sonically diverse album and a true document of what a band can accomplish in rock ‘n roll while maintaining their original sound and integrity.
Greatest Tracks: Welcome to the Occupation, The One I Love, King of Birds, The End of the World As We Know It
Green – (3 / 5)
Compared to any of R.E.M.’s first five records, Green is a minor work. The band seems to try and expand their power pop chops, but it comes at the expense of consistency and mood. This album does have the ability to make punishing, political statements such as “World Leader Pretend” and the quite brilliant and defiant anthem “Orange Crush”, as well as personal and motivational quirky rants like “Stand” and “Turn You Inside Out”. The remaining songs just sound tired though, whether too commercial and superficial on “Pop Song 89” and “Get Up” which are unfortunately the first two songs on the record, or lame attempts at ballads like “You Are the Everything” and “The Wrong Child”, the “Oddfellows Local” rip off “I Remember California”, or the worst R.E.M. song yet- “Hairshirt”. Luckily, the band took a 3-year rest after this to re-examine their approach and really that move saved them from becoming a band that merely phoned it in when it comes to making albums. A record every single year since 1982 is quite a feat for any touring rock group, and it’s a minor miracle that the band are as consistent as they have been on previous records to date. Green should be an album for a REM completest only, so I’d skip it while getting the band’s catalogue.
Greatest Tracks: Orange Crush, Turn You Inside Out, Stand, World Leader Pretend
Out of Time – (3.5 / 5)
The R.E.M. of the 90’s is quite different than the band of the 80’s. Right away, the listener can hear a different maturity not only to Stipes voice but to the way the band approaches music in general. There verse-chorus structures are there sometimes, but in some tunes there is more of a Patti Smith presence and the heart of a true poet is felt in Michael Stipe (“Low”, the feedback drenched “Country Feedback”). The lead single off of the album is one of their greatest songs and also their most popular, “Losing My Religion”. An old southern expression about losing one’s way, the song is touching in many ways with its touching lyrics and angelic mood (“I thought that I heard you laughing/ I thought that I heard you sing / I think I thought I saw you try.”) Overplayed on the radio to this day, yes, but easily the best song on Out of Time, and the album has a hard time living up to such a monumental achievement (truly, the song had as much fame and impact as that other big alternative single from 1991, “Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit”). It’s also the first use of stringed instruments on an REM record, that I can recall, not to mention Buck’s mandolin plucking which gives it a defiant atmosphere.
There are many tunes on here that hark back to Fables of the Reconstruction era REM, and the best ones recall the great jangle pop of that record. From the great and shimmering bop-bops of “Near Wild Heaven”, album closer “Me In Honey” which features B-52’s member Kate Pierson and does repeat the verse melody from their own “Maps and Legends” a little bit, and “Texarkana” where bass player Mike Mills shines on lead vocals. Some of the power pop tendencies do not work, like the dated singles that were popular at the time but now come off as annoying like “Shiny Happy People” (which at least plays to the band’s strengths with its super jangle guitar riff by Peter Buck and AGAIN guest vocals by Pierson) and “Radio Song”, which is the band’s biggest misfire to date, with rapper KRS-One guest rapping (very similar to Sonic Youth’s Chuck D cameo a year). The latter is hilariously bad and a horrible way to start off the album, ESPECIALLY coming before “Losing My Religion”. If you can’t tell by now, this is a very random sounding album, one that can’t quite gain momentum successfully. There is a catchy as hell track every other track, and experimental dirges in between. While the album does have some decent hidden gems like the poignant wordless “Endgame” and successfully experimental “Country Feedback”, others just don’t work at all like the overlong “Low”, the raw but generic “Half a World Away” and whatever pretentious mess “Belong” is. Most of the album is quite listenable and a lot of it is mind-blowingly great, but Out of Time is surprisingly uneven for being their most popular album to date, and definitely not representative of the band’s best work. Recommended if you don’t mind a challenging listen.
Greatest Tracks: Losing My Religion, Texarkana, Near Wild Heaven, Me in Honey
Automatic for the People – (4.5 / 5)
What a magnificent album this is, and how unexpected! This moody, sad, beautiful masterwork really came out of nowhere, as the band had pointed to a future of shimmering pop tunes a la “Shiny Happy People”. Thankfully, Automatic for The People plays as the inverse of Out of Time, whereas the majority of that album was about trying new things and going with the style of the times (which always comes out dated as years go by) and this one plays on the strengths of REM as a stripped back and subtle group of four musicians that know how to make moving ballads. The dark ballads contained here are like nothing R.E.M. has ever done before, it is extremely consistent quality wise, and contains a solid atmosphere (regardless of what that atmosphere is).
Maintaining the new orchestrated feel of the previous record (which echoes many of the baroque albums of the 1960’s like Days of Future Past by Moody Blues and Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake), these songs are emotional in a very sinister way. “Drive” is a blistering opener though very minimal and hypnotic in its accompaniment; “Monty Got a Raw Deal” and piano ballad (a first for this band) “Nightswimming” are the introspective songs with a dark tonality; “Sweetness Follows”, the gut wrenching “Everybody Hurts” and “Try Not to Breathe”, about fragility of life as told by a dying old man, are the tear jerkers of the album that work if you are in the mood. I say ‘in the mood’ because certain songs on the album can come off as a tad languished at times and many of these pieces had to grow on me because they are not what I expected on an REM album. Automatic for the People is a change of pace for the group and really shows them maturing and growing up. “Sweetness Follows” it should be said is one of the most depressing songs of all time, but it asks hard questions about family and is extremely poignant and heart wrenching.
On the hard rock side, there is one of the band’s largest hits in “Man On the Moon”, a tale about comedian Andy Kaufmann and tying how he faked a lot of his publicity stunts to the reality of the moon landing in 1969, and “Ignoreland” which actually has a little distorted guitar in it and sticks out on such a downbeat album (though in a way that I wish MORE songs were like this); the song uses yells and chants a la “Orange Crush” but with more melodic ideas springing up throughout. These songs, along with the lesser “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”, are the much needed rockers to prove the band still has rock in roll at its heart. The album does falter a bit with the cheesy “The Sidewinder Sleeps tonight” and the overlong, sometimes draggy “New Orleans Instrumental # One” which could have been scrapped all together as it deters the flow of the record. The closer “Find the River” is good little country rock ballad, but kind of derivate of a couple of older R.E.M. songs, “Disturbance at the Heron House” and “Welcome to the Occupation” to name a few.
Critics that name this REM’s best album are correct about some things, but not all things. Ii is the band’s return to form quality-wise after some inconsistent attempts (Green and Out of Time) and the first minor masterwork since Document. However, unlike Document and Murmur (not to mention the flawless Life’s Rich Pageant) which effortlessly shifted between rock songs and ballads, Automatic for the People often feels a little like a challenge to get into; to be clear in what I mean- it feels like the band is TRYING to create a masterwork instead of just being themselves. There is a touch of over-production present, which is not a bad thing by itself, but I have always said that songs should stand by themselves (stripped) to be good at their core and if you take the production out of some of these tracks (“Star Me Kitten”, “Sidewinder”, “Everybody Hurts” to name a few) and what is left? I am nitpicking to say the least, but it has to be said that this not the band’s best record, though it is a turning point in their career. There are just some truly singular amazing moments on here: like the emotional upheaval at the four-minute mark of “Everybody Hurts”, the ending of “Try not to Breathe” when you can feel the old man die, and when the drums enter on “Monty Got A Raw Deal”. To sum up, a unique experience and a restoration of faith (never really doubted them!) in one of the world’s greatest bands.
Greatest Tracks: Drive, Ignoreland, Try Not to Breathe, Sweetness Follows
Monster – (4.5 / 5)
Not giving their new, darker sound a chance to go stale, R.E.M. have gone hard rock! Not grunge, not metal, just harder and more rockin with a complete change in guitar one from Peter Buck (distortion!!!!). Not a band to ever adhere to one style, changing their overall sound and mood is how R.E.M. get experimental; they don’t ever really change song structures, but that is ok because they know how to write good tunes. I don’t think anyone would argue that “What’s The Frequency Kenneth” is one of the best R.E.M. songs of all time- its my personal favorite, up there with “Welcome to the Occupation” (from Document) and “Flowers of Guatemala” (from Life’s Rich Pageant). The words are at once indecipherable like the old days and very meaningful one decrypted, “you wore expectations like an armored suit / You said that irony was the shackles of youth.” That same energy, sound, and tone the band gets on “Kenneth” is mirrored through the whole album on blistering rock songs rarely seen in mainstream music: the tearing riff of “I Took Your Name”, the distorted jangle and echoing vocals of the catchy “Star 69”, the soul crushing love fable of “Crush With Eyeliner” (guest starring Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth), the chimes used throughout “Circus Envy”. These pure rock songs bring life to the world of music like no other R.E.M. album before or since, and fun is in the band’s repertoire again.
Surprisingly though, this album gets a lot of slack. I think it is because between all the arena ready rock tunes are some experiments with ballads that go a number of different ways. On the successful front, “Strange Currencies” sounds like the arpeggio guitar chords on “Everybody Hurts” from the album previous, but in a way improves upon it with a less grating approach and a more honest vocal performance from Michael Stipe. Bang and Blame” sounds like a lounge ballad from other space sang by an abused alien. “King of Comedy” references a great film and has interesting guest female vocals (Rain Phoenix, sister of River as well as Sally Dworsky); “You” has a great, hovering atmosphere via The Breeders “Invisible Man” with that sweet guitar sound still intact. There are a couple of songs that musically, could use more: “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” and “Tounge” are Stipe’s experiments with falsetto and they are an acquired taste to say the least, while “Let Me In” is rather lost in its mess of distortion.
Monster has somewhat of a reputation in used record stores (I frequent them obviously and worked at one for years) for being an album that is always present in the used ben. Honestly, I don’t know if I have ever seen a “new” copy of it on cd outside of an online store! But I have never understood that because there is NO REASON ANYONE SHOULDN’T LIKE THIS. The sound? Great. The songs? Three fourths of the record is good to great. The topics/lyrics? Always adventurous. I truly do not understand why people cannot get into this album, it is R.E.M.’s most catchy damn it! Dare I say a Monster is a flawed masterpiece? I say it! Underestimate the power of Monster at your own peril. To those who don’t know what I’m rambling about, don’t worry about it, this is a fine place to start your R.E.M. collection. It was my first glimpse into their world when I purchased it back in 1994.
Greatest Tracks: What’s the Frequency Kenneth, Strange Currencies, Crush With Eyeliner, I Took Your Name
New Adventures in Hi Fi – (4 / 5)
New Adventures in Hi Fi sounds is only ‘new’ in some ways. The sound is kind of Automatic meets Monster, which ain’t new, just a hybrid. First of all, many of these songs sound like b-sides, not surprising seeing as how the band recorded some 45 songs initially for the sessions for Monster. Secondly, the album doesn’t have a great song on it until the fifth song (the Stipe and Patti Smith duet, “E-bow the Letter), so that is four songs of relative boredom to sit through. Some songs on here are amazing and a true “Departure” (sic) for the band: the seven minute “Leave” is the best example, which can’t be talked about just has to be heard. The rest of the album has the drifty ambience of “Leave”, whether it is hazy like the careening “E Bow the Letter” and “Electrolyte” (one of Stipe’s best songs lyrically, which merges “Nightswimming” with “Find the River” from Automatic for the People) or a touching, climaxing ballad like “Be Mine”. There are plenty of great songs about travel thrown here and there, as many of these tunes were recorded while the band was on actual tour: the Mike Mills bass lead standout “Low Desert” and “So Fast, So Numb” being the more durable ones. The feel of the American southwest is prominent in these songs in the best possible way.
R.E.M. shows not a failure here, but a sign of being tired and worn out. Some songs are passable tunes that the band could do in its sleep by this point (New Test Leper”, “Bitter Sweet Me”, the instrumental “Zither”) and several hat should have been cut all together (“Wake Up Bomb”, “Binky the Doormat”, “Undertow”). There is nothing wrong with having a record run over an hour, but New Adventures does not have the tunes to justify such a length. Many of the songs drag on over five minutes as well, including the opening song “How the West Was Won” that rips off The Tragically Hip’s “Thugs” from their recent Day for Night album (am i the only one who cares about that?). This would be the perfect record to call it a day on, as it is the last R.E.M. album worth owning and the last with the original line up, seeing as drummer Bill berry quit after this. Along with Fables of the Reconstruction and Out of Time, it is worth owning for the diehard, but not necessary if you can get the best songs off of it. There are some great songs here, but you have to sift around for them. If there exists a ‘hipster’ version of an REM album, this is it.
Greatest Tracks: Electrolyte, Leave, Ebow the Letter, Be Mine
Up – (2 / 5)
Well, merely a year after their latest double album, R.E.M. came out with an album just as overlong. They also changed producers, going from longtime collaborator Scott Litt to Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich. “Lotus” has a rocking vibe that meets this new digital production but is hardly a great song; “At My Most Beautiful” is reminiscent of The Beach Boys except R.E.M. style, and one of my favorite R.E.M. tunes; “Daysleeper” is traditional R.E.M. in a GOOD WAY; “Walk Unafraid” and “Suspicion” are also decent, moody songs. The remainder is not worth your time.
Greatest Tracks: At My Most Beautiful, Daysleeper
Reveal – (3 / 5)
Yeah! This album is only 54 minutes so it’s not a double album like the last two! Thank god that is not the only thing that is better here; this album is more consistent, cheerier, and melodic than Up could ever hope to be. I guess the 4-year break was needed. I know R.E.M. signed like the largest record deal ever around this time or something, so they will be making records for a while and hopefully they will be at least decent like Reveal is. Your average album is about half good, half bad right? Well that is about how this is, some great songs like “All the Way to Reno”, “Beat a Drum”, and “Imitation of Life” and then some good ones like “The Lifting”, “Disappear”, and “I’ve Been High”. The tone here is less computerized than Up was also, which helps even the weaker songs. “She Just Wants to Be” and “I’ll Take the Rain” are emotional ballads, but they aint that good, and “Summer Turns to High”, “Chorus and the Ring”, and “Beachball” sound like traditional R.E.M. but their certainly not as good as R.E.M. has been in the past. This is not one of R.E.M.’s worst records, which are Green and Up in my opinion, but some songs are too long and therefore too repetitive. It also has a vibe that is too mellow and stilted for my tastes. Still, it gives us hope that R.E.M., at their best, can still explore new territory and are capable of good songs. They have lasted longer than most and we are grateful they are still making records, as long as they are at least decent.
Greatest Tracks: all the way to reno, beat a drum, immitation of life, ive been high
Around the Sun – (1 / 5)
Their worst record, avoid at all costs.
Greatest Tracks: Aftermath (if I had to pick)
Accelerate – (2.5 / 5)
Slightly better, but hugely overrated as a comeback. A little bit of energy returns on the lead singles, but it definitely sounds like old men trying to be relevant, though the title track and “Horse to Water” have their merits. “Supernatural Superserious” is a “Sweet Jane” rip off, I hope that was on purpose. “Im Gonna DJ” is the worst REM song yet, like a parody of their old sound. This album is further proof that Monster is the real deal.
Greatest Tracks: Horse to Water, Accelerate, Man Sized Wreath
Collapse Into Now – (1.5 / 5)
Their final record is simply REM by numbers, as the band goes out with a whimper.
Greatest Tracks: nope!
Compilations (b-sides, EP’s, Live albums, etc)
Chronic Town – ****1/2