First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2001, Volume 8, #11
Written by John Metzger
Since releasing the exquisite 1-2 punch of Out of Time and Automatic for the People nearly a decade ago, R.E.M. has struggled to regain its footing. The post-grunge Monster was largely inconsistent, and while New Adventures in Hi-Fi signaled some new directions, it ultimately found the band tired and uncommitted to them. Then came Up — a bold statement that, despite the departure of drummer Bill Berry, equaled the group's early '90s masterpieces. With its sweeping Pet Sounds-era arrangements, Up was a huge departure for the band — one that confounded some critics and fans. Indeed, R.E.M. had moved far beyond its blend of post-punk, Byrdsian jangle that helped define the alternative rock movement.
Despite being R.E.M.'s most recent release, Reveal very well could have been Up's predecessor. For whatever reason — whether it be the lukewarm acceptance that greeted Up or insecurities within the band about its new direction — R.E.M. has taken a step backwards. True, the songs are still filled with atmospheric, nob-twiddling gestures and Brian Wilson-inspired melodies. But Reveal's songs just don't come together quite as well as those on Up; most of them go nowhere in particular; and often the melodies are nearly non-existent. For all its attempt at orchestrated beauty, She Just Wants to Be falls flat as does the distorted drone of Disappear. Summer Turns to High plods along, and Imitation of Life immediately grabs, but eventually wears thin.
Even worse, Reveal's superficial synthesized sounds more often than not serve as distractions rather than enhancements to the music. The odd sonic additions that permeate I've Been High drag down the song's inherent Roxy Music-like beauty, and the mechanical percussion of Beat a Drum keeps the tune from becoming transcendent. Even the otherwise outstanding All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star) features burbling keyboards that get in the way of the melody.
Clearly, R.E.M.'s intent was to capture the essence of Radiohead and make it its own. Instead, the group wound up with Reveal, a collection of songs that sound as if its members ran amuck in the recording studio, and added a wide array of noises simply because the tools were available, not because they were necessary. As a result, Reveal is chock-full of ideas that remain incomplete, and the result is largely unsatisfying.
Of Further Interest...
Reveal is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box