I don't think the members of R.E.M. enjoy making music all that much these days. After several listens to their most recent effort, Reveal, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that this dull album may be the most lackluster thing they've ever done.
It's an attempt to wed the jangly Byrd-isms of their early work with the icy experimentation and electronics of 1998's Up, which people either seemed to love or hate. Me, I suppose I was closest to the "love' camp...I thought it was often very good, with tuneful, evocative songs like Daysleeper, You're in the Air, and the gorgeous At My Most Beautiful. On Reveal they try to have their cake and eat it too, but unlike Up they apparently couldn't be bothered to craft any memorable melodies. There's absolutely nothing on this album which approaches their best as a group, let alone the Up album. When I first heard the single Imitation of Life I thought it sounded weak, but at least it had some sort of hook that stayed with me...so imagine my disappointment when it turns out to be the strongest cut! The songs plod along, usually based on a riff which recalls their IRS-era stuff with an occasional synth flourish here or disconnected guitar lick there to see if we're paying attention. Problem is, the riffs go nowhere and do not form melodies that grab the ear. Stipe's lyrics are as obscure as ever, and despite straining for a kind of grandiosity there's a certain banality about them that I'm not accustomed to seeing, and they often fall back on repetition when apparently he couldn't think of anything else to put in there. The whole thing sounds half-assed and compromised, like they were doing the album just to fulfill an obligation of some sort. This may not be the case, I can't say...but this is sure dull and ininspired music from a group which can be anything but.
Yeah, I'm disappointed. I'm one of the few that thought they got more interesting after Automatic For the People rather than less. I hope that someday they can rekindle the spark that they have apparently let go out.