R.E.M.’s twelfth studio album, Reveal, turns 20 on 14 Could. Though usually known because the band’s return to their “basic” sound after their digital experimentation of Up, it has a endurance all its personal. Greater than that, it’s excess of simply one other R.E.M. album. Whereas it has the atmospheric—and virtually eerie—Americana sound that the group is understood for, it additionally options the synths they missed out on within the Nineteen Eighties, after they performed round with dynamics. There are not any jarring quantity adjustments right here, both, as the entire album is as easy as a river rock.
Regardless of this fluidity, Reveal retains the basic R.E.M. eccentricity. It’s “basic” not purely in sound but additionally in spirit, keen to attract collectively disparate parts that shouldn’t work alongside creating its personal. Right here, the group takes turns channeling Westerns, house operas, Nineteen Eighties/Nineteen Nineties ballads, and Nineteen Sixties pop, all of the whereas having no qualms about mixing all of it collectively. That’s to not say that the group throws all the things in a pot and watches it boil down; somewhat, all the things is added in very deliberate portions and really deliberate locations (in true hyper-intellectual R.E.M. style). Moreover, it’s unafraid of minor dangers—resembling vastly in a different way scored verses and choruses—successfully making a calico music of two tracks.
Lyrically, it’s relentlessly and drily optimistic, invoking the type of melancholic cheer proven by a mum or dad watching their youngster develop up. As is typical of R.E.M., there’s pretty little storytelling; as an alternative, they concentrate on evocations of temper that, in flip, inform tales of their very own. The LP additionally shows a major maturation of Michael Stipe’s voice and lyrics. Whereas he’s by no means been identified for vocal virtuosity, he proves that some easy follow works miracles, in addition to that R.E.M.’s twenty years of existence had achieved its work.
Album opener “The Lifting” options spacey synths in tandem with lyrics like, “You stated the air was singing / It’s calling you / You don’t imagine these items / You’ve by no means seen, by no means heard, by no means dreamed”. Odd off-beats within the vocal line additional the unearthliness of the monitor, and the delicate but suspenseful tapping percussion rounds out the instrumentation.
Afterward, an ’80s affect is especially obvious on “I’ve Been Excessive”, with hovering keyboards and emotional, practically ballad-like lyrics resembling “Make my make-believe imagine in me”. All through, there’s a sure spangly percussion current that’s type of tongue-in-cheek. Instrumentally and lyrically, it reads like a loving parody of a sure style of ’80s music.
In a bouncy and bassy recreation of Western music, “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)” options the addition of bubbly synthesizers and a pleasant guitar riff to shut out the verses. “You realize what you’re / You’re gonna be a star”, says Michael Stipe. Whether or not it’s real or sarcastic, he slams you within the face along with his quiet sincerity.
Subsequent, “She Simply Desires to Be” begins with acoustic strumming, patiently rising as new elements are added. Whereas it’s a spare piece (it’s easy to listen to the completely different devices), the light energy of the gradual construct, coupled with the utilization of damaging house across the bridge, distinguishes it from the pack.
The fleeting chaos of close to noise begins “Disappear”, whose verses function a Nick Cave-style rigidity akin to the feeling of counting down in your fingers. The refrain is just barely extra upbeat, that includes the lyrical chorus of “I regarded for you in all places”. On high of being one of many strongest shows of Stipe’s vocals, it additionally options a few of the most painful and affecting sentiments (“Erasing all I’ve been” and “I got here to vanish”).
“Saturn Return” comprises light piano—in turns hesitant and assured—paired with a spacey synth that might be proper at house scoring old skool Physician Who or on a later Blur album. You may maybe hear its echoes in such acts as Damaged Bells and on the Leases’ 2020 album, Q36, and arguably nearly some other modern house rock (like Bowie rewritten for the twenty-first century).
The just about Nineteen Sixties-sounding “Beat a Drum” is anachronistic with its hovering, practically Pet Sounds/Sgt. Pepper’s-esque refrain instrumentation paired with Michael Stipe’s distinct vocals. The verse guitar is especially spangly, maybe even early Kinks-like, particularly when supported by the shining, watery keyboard.
“Imitation of Life” is pure R.E.M.—jangly guitar paired with practically buzzing tenor vocals in a near-rewrite of “Shedding My Faith”. Greater than that, strains like “The best factor since bread got here sliced” and the refrain of “That sugarcane, that tasted good / That’s who you’re / That’s what you could possibly / Come on, come on, nobody can see you cry” beg to be screamed alongside to at a live performance, with the ferocity usually reserved for college-aged Mountain Goats followers.
“Summer season Turns to Excessive” combines ’60s and ’80s sounds and recondenses them as turn-of-the-millennium indie. Stipe sings as gently as a lullaby whereas the percussion and synthesizers don’t a lot stab as prod (just like the mechanisms of a clock), matching the practically counting-aloud rhythm of the vocal line.
“Refrain and the Ring” is cheerful, variety, and wealthy as ice cream, thanks partly to its heat and intelligent bassline. Right here, noisy suggestions seems like house and security; even because it drowns out Stipe’s voice, you possibly can’t deliver your self to care that a lot.
Stipe’s voice comes out skinny and weak initially of “I’ll Take the Rain”, matching the despairing lyrics. Nevertheless, at that time, the instrumentals (well-developed, if not significantly robust) trace on the cheerful nihilism of the upcoming refrain. It pairs self-empowering however melancholic lyrics with optimistic instrumentation and vocals, yielding a sound like daylight filtering between clouds on a wet day.
“Beachball” is one other baroque pop-sounding monitor, a lot in order that I double-checked the personnel checklist (swearing I’d heard a dwelling, respiratory horns part) solely to seek out it was merely intelligent guitar and keyboards. The mix of lyrics recounting a seaside day and the practically vaudevillian “horns” recall the inexplicable, sundrenched unhappiness of the cultural reminiscence of a Coney Island weekend, even for these of us who by no means went.
The album itself is a cautious collage of disparate sounds which are by no means cluttered or nonsensical, simply because it’s an assemblage of songs that—superficially—have little to do with one another exterior of actually sounding like R.E.M. within the Twenty first-century (post-Up). The tracks, just like the album, self-define their standing. “Imitation of Life” comes between “Beat a Drum” and “Summer season Turns to Excessive”, simply as Reveal itself comes after Up. The general impact—of the disparate sounds and the self-definition—is considered one of aware and healthful blankness. It doesn’t attempt to be greater than it’s.
But, this actually is only a guitar rock album (which isn’t a nasty factor as a result of it’s very intelligent, particularly as a result of it by no means desires for some other instrumentation). Using esoteric timbres is commonly thought of an innately good factor for an album to do, however R.E.M. can create the consequences of these devices whereas “solely” utilizing guitar, bass, percussion, keyboard, and vocals. (Granted, keyboards can do lots of heavy lifting.)
Possibly you possibly can hear its affect in some locations; nevertheless, that’s not the vital factor. In spite of everything, an album doesn’t need to be influential to be particular. It’s, although, extra than simply one other R.E.M. album. Whether or not or not it’s their finest is as much as particular person interpretation, but it surely definitely holds a selected maturity and stability distinctive to their oeuvre. Maybe this maturity comes from its personal consciousness of itself as a great album and nothing extra. Typically, one thing doesn’t need to be particular to be particular.