R.E.M. – Reveal

Reveal (2001)


1. The Lifting 2. I’ve Been High 3. All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star) 4. She Just Wants To Be 5. Disappear 6. Saturn Return 7. Beat A Drum 8. Imitation Of Life 9. Summer Turns To High 10. Chorus And The Ring 11. I’ll Take The Rain 12. Beach Ball


Well, they’re still awfully focused on texture… starting right off with “The Lifting,” you’re hit with whooshing futuristic synth swells, dramatic strings and various bloopy noises, and you’re all like, “Dude! This is so cool! It feels like I’m taking off into space!” And you’d be right in that keen assertion; the song produces quite an impressive and enveloping feeling of defying gravity. But what’s going on underneath all that? A couple of basic piano chords, a recycled melody… and that’s it. It’s like opening up the Christmas present shaped like the toy racecar you really wanted only to discover that it’s nothing more than a pack of socks. Still, “The Lifting” comes out looking like a masterpiece amidst this collection of Brian Wilson-obsessed sissyboy pop and limpid ballads. And soon enough, when listening to this album, the inevitable question begins to form in one’s mind… why did the personnel-deficient REM decide to carry on if this was all they had to offer?

Though Buck is back to playing somewhat more (boring) guitar, Reveal, like Up, is defined by its army of keyboards and synths, though this time they attempt to approximate symphonic pop rather than chill electronica. But mostly, the preponderance of romantic keyboard tones is used to cover up the fact that they didn’t bother writing much of anything worth a damn this time around. Take, say, “Saturn Return” or “Summer Turns To High”… a bunch of pretty slop lazily swirling around offensively twee melodies, and nothing more. Fortunately they’re so light and airy and substanceless you’ll just forget about them completely about 5 seconds after they’re over, which goes for most of the songs on this album. Like “I’ve Been High,” which drifts by so quietly and tepidly that one begins to wonder if it even exists, despite the band’s futile attempt to force the listener to pay attention by adding in a stuttering techno beat midway through. Behind it is what I think might be a pretty decent tune, but who would bother paying enough attention to find out? On the opposite end of the spectrum, they pile so much shit on top of something like “Disappear” that it begins to sound like a goofy synthetic impression of a confused marching band… but all the effects are the only reason I remember anything about it, because it, like several other tunes here, does not feature anything resembling memorable melody or thoughtful composition. The only song here that sounds like they spent as much time on the songwriting as they did on arrangement and mixing is the single “All The Way To Reno,” which a neat little guitar hook and a catchy melody, and to me invokes an aural representation of a futuristic desert city. But it’s so damn slow it’s hard to get too excited about it.

As they did with Up, they chose a stereotypical “REM-like” song that has little to do with the rest of the album’s aesthetic as the lead single… “Imitation Of Life” is ostensibly catchy, and I admit that it’s eminently singalongable, but it makes me a little sick to my stomach because the title is pretty damn apt. Did they have to use the EXACT same verse chords as those of “Driver 8?” And did they have make it so obvious that they were just baldly pandering by lifelessly recreating the REM sound of old in order to fool critics into thinking they weren’t totally washed up? Peter Buck seems to have almost completely given up on coming up with guitar parts that are either a) the slightest bit interesting or b) dull retreads of past glories. Like “She Just Wants To Be,” which starts off with an arpeggiated acoustic riff and makes you go “Woah! REM!” But then you realize it probably took him about 5 seconds to come up with and he’s just repeating it over and over again and 1986 Peter Buck wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

Parts of this record do sound really cool, and it’s a nice bonus when they occasionally manage to come up with a song that doesn’t completely suck. “Beat A Drum” is the most obvious Beach Boys rip on the album, and you can see that chorus coming from a mile away, but at least you can hum along to it. And “Chorus And The Ring,” built off of clean guitar strums, is another two-chord wonder during the verses, but I sense an emotional resonance here that the rest of the album seems to be faking its way towards. Though I suppose fakery should surprise me – after all, this is nothing more than fake REM.