REM Reveal Warner Brothers * * (two stars)
The "grunge" revolution of the early nineties left hair bands dead, sent pop stars into hibernation, and put traditional soft-rock bands into limbo. R.E.M., who unquestionably put out some of the best music of the 80's, was one of the bands in the last category.
R.E.M.'s two early 90's releases, 1991's Out of Time and 1992's Automatic for the People, sold nearly ten million copies combined in the United States alone. Since then, however, lead singer Michael Stipe and company have not met with much critical or commercial success. The 1994 album Monster was their last to sell well in the United States, and their last two releases were overlooked almost entirely.
During the recording of 1999's Up, drummer and co-founder Bill Berry left the band, and it seemed that Up could in fact be the band's last album.
R.E.M. decided to keep recording. After releasing the underrated "The Great Beyond" on the Man on the Moon soundtrack, the band went to work. Reveal is the result of their nearly two-year recording effort.
Many view this as a comeback album for the trio, but the question remains -- does it live up to the high R.E.M. standard?
For the first two tracks, all is well for R.E.M. "The Lifting" and "I've Been High" incorporate electronic instruments in a way that many rock bands that experiment with computers can only hope to reach.The foray into electronic music is neither forced nor awkward, and R.E.M. blends their classic soft-rock sound with newer instruments.
Unfortunately, the innovation stops there. The rest of the album is spotty at best. When Stipe's vocals are on, lead guitar Peter Buck sounds bored with the music; when the band is dead on with the delivery, Stipe sounds flat and sometimes sings incoherent and awful lyrics. ("So I dive into a pool so cool and deep that if I sink I sink / And when I swim I fly so high." Huh?). No songs are terrible, but nothing is great either.
The first single off Reveal, "Imitation of Life" is the lone track after track two that does anything with the music. It is a bit catchy, it has a good beat, and it reminds the listener of what could have been for this album. Ironically, if Reveal had showed some more, it could have been a fitting comeback album. Instead, it remains a brief showcase of R.E.M.'s brilliance, but also a showcase of its faults.