R.E.M. Rock just doesnt come all that much better. From the brilliantly obscure Murmur, to the politically thorny Document, to the darkly intimate Automatic for the People, theyve produced great album after great album.
And despite complaints, theyve changed their music a number of times. Many complain, wishing they would keep re-recording Reckoning or Out of Time or whatever. Instead, theyve kept changing a great deal about their music over the years. But what theyve kept consistently is great tunes, a rock-solid band, and Michael Stipes incredible voice.
An important part of that band recently left. Drummer Bill Berry recently left the group, as many of you probably know. Over the years hes been an important, essential member of the group. Consider the untitled track at the end of Green. It strikes one as a beautiful little way to end the album, but a moment spent considering the drum beat elevates it considerably. The drums are beating off, but perfectly off. So how does R.E.M. do without Bill Berry?
Quite well, actually. While it might have been interesting to hear Bill Berrys beats on a few tracks, for the most part the album holds up quite well. Again REM has chosen to reinvent themselves. I really had the feeling that this was in many ways a new group.
The first track, “Airportman,” sets the tone immediately. It reminds me a lot of some of the more gorgeous tracks on Radioheads OK Computer. A laid-back computerized drum beat, a wash of keyboards and Stipes voice floating somewhere in the middle. Several tracks see the band incorporating more electronic noises in their music. However, they always put the song above the technology.
“Lotus,” the second single, is a much more urban sounding tune. Michael Stipes’ multi-tracked voice sounds very eerie, and Peter Bucks guitar sounds powerful. This is one of the few straight forward rock tracks. It contrasts well with “Hope,” which ought to be a single. The music is almost frenzied, but Michaels voice remains calm and cool (“You want to go out Friday/and you want to go forever”). Beautiful.
There are several incredible ballads, such as the vaguely spooky “Suspicion,” the wistful “Why Not Smile,” and the first single “Daysleeper”, a beautiful look into the world of working all night.
“Falls To Climb,” the album closer, is a powerful track, grand in a way that quite a few R.E.M. tracks have managed. There is almost no beat, just swirling keyboards, and Peter Bucks’ lightly shaded guitars, as Michael sings “Had consequence chose differently/had fate its ugly head/my actions make me beautiful/and dignify the flesh.” And the album fades away. R.E.M. has changed themselves again, and somehow kept everything wonderful.