Friday, March 11, 2011



How long have we been waiting for a truly great R.E.M. record?  Since New Adventures In Hi-Fi perhaps?  Since Bill Berry quit?  As the Monster/Up/Around The Sun releases have blended into each other, the group has seemed almost desperate to recapture the public's interest, trying too hard, putting out too many discs.  Yet with each album of the past couple anyway, it has seemed that something was up, a possible fire in the belly that could or should lead somewhere.

Which leads me to say I've pretty well convinced myself this is a great R.E.M. album.  There's some barn-burners on here that have me thrilled, real rockers that make me happy, as if it's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.  There's also some classic quiet, obscure and quite beautiful numbers, that place where Stipe gets haunting and Buck gets moody, and it all works.  One fine example is Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I, which references Neil Young's Brando tune, Pocahontas.  Buck digs out the old mandolin, and we're in Stipe's dreamland.

There are two cuts that leap out as gems to add to the next Greatest Hits collection.  The wonderfully-named Mine Smell Like Honey is a guitar rocker with a great sing-along chorus.  Then there's Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter, which is much less weird than its name suggests.  It's a big, pounding number, featuring Peaches on harmonies, this album's Shiny Happy People.  Eddie Vedder is featured, and old pal Patti Smith is on board as well, joining Stipe in a poetry slam on the final cut, Blue, giving us pretty much everything you want from an R.E.M. album.

Producer Jacknife Lee will get some of the applause for this comeback, but the band also deserves a lot of credit for sticking it out for the past decade, and enduring a lot of frustration.   Hopefully, there are still enough fans ready to embrace them again.

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