The Good: "Chorus And The Ring," "Beat A Drum," "Imitation Of Life."
The Bad: Everything else, seriously.
The Basics: Possibly R.E.M.'s worst album, Reveal is slow, murky and lacks any musical or vocal diversity to make it a pleasant listening experience.
Every now and then, I receive a serious disappointment from an artist I generally like. I mean, I don't think now I would have rated the Oasis album Don't Believe The Truth (reviewed here!) as highly as I did, considering I never listen to it anymore. It's a disappointment. As I hit the end of the R.E.M. albums I have available to me for review, I find myself similarly disappointed. The album is Reveal and it is just plain terrible. There. I wrote it, I stand by it, it's just a bad album.
Sure, there are three songs worth listening to and only two of them are on In Time, R.E.M.'s "Best Of" album from this time period, but there's a third on there ("All The Way To Reno") which baffles me for its presence there. I know, I've been listening to and reviewing a lot of R.E.M. lately and it has been nice to get comments on those reviews, but for Reveal, I'm going to stand by this review unflinchingly for this one reason: Reveal is a dull album that does nothing lyrically or musically interesting that anyone who has heard anything by R.E.M. has not heard before.
With twelve tracks, clocking in at 53:46, Reveal is a slow, throbbing album by R.E.M. that does not say much and sounds like even less. Reveal is a collection of R.E.M.'s new, soft pop sound and the trio falls pretty flat with that. Instead of having even moments of musical inspiration, the album is largely dull, slow and doesn't have anything catchy or truly memorable about it. Instead, the listener is subjected to some of the least interesting lyrics, music and vocals R.E.M. has ever produced. And R.E.M. does take the blame for this outing; all songs were written, played and co-produced by the band.
Lyrically, Reveal seems a little more murky, even for R.E.M. Even on the decent songs, the band seems determined to obscure their meaning more than express it. With lines like "Thats (sic) sugarcane that tasted good / Thats (sic) cinnamon thats (sic) hollywood / C'mon c'mon no one can see you try" ("Imitation Of Life") one begins to wonder if R.E.M. is just picking random thoughts and concepts out of the ether and pairing them up. In a similar fashion, pairing the conference room, business setting and grounded plane with feeling free in "The Lifting" just does not work. Unless the group is trying for one of the most subtle and ironic songs in history, the lines do not work.
Moreover, many of the songs are just plain repetitive, right along the line of the title of the song. So, for example, in "She Just Wants To Be," after a moderate opening of "It's not that she walked away, / Her world got smaller. / All the usual places, / The same destinations, / Only something's changed," the title is repeated no less than eight times and the listener gets tired of it. Reveal is terrible on replaying because so many of the songs just repeat the title. The somnambulic presentation of "Summer Turns To High" repeats that title at least eight times as well and I strongly recommend not driving and listening to that track!
The only notable track by the lyrics is "Chorus And The Ring." On that track, we are granted the decent poetics of ". . . Quote the scriptures, keep them guessing / Which pit you crawled from. / Just defy it, just deny it, was it fun? / Your time has come - / What have you done? What have you done? / That's when the insults start to sting / You can't remember anything / The chorus chime in, the greek chorus, / The machine of god singing" ("Chorus And The Ring"). It is a beautiful indictment of religion and reality, the harshness of emotions and the longing for deeper meaning. It works and it is brilliant . . .
. . . it belongs on a different album as it is entirely an exception to the rest of the tracks on this one.
The repetitive aspect of many of the other songs makes the album seem less inspired than many other R.E.M. albums and this problem is somewhat compounded by the songs being less lyrically interesting to begin with.
The only thing more dull than the lyrics are the vocals and instrumentals on Reveal. All of the vocals fall easily within Michael Stipe's mid-range ability. He does not go lower, he does not go higher. On "Beat A Drum," he holds a few notes, but that's the closest he comes to actually straining himself on the vocals on this album. Indeed, on that track, he holds a note, but it does not illustrate any ability or quality a listener to R.E.M. did not already know he possessed.
Instrumentally, Reveal continues the unfortunate trend toward utter dullness. All of the songs are slow and murky, relying more on organs and strings than guitars or any percussion. This is a slow-ballad album without the substance to back it up. Actually, instrumentally, this is the most monolithic album R.E.M. has ever produced; showing little range or even any ability to play more than three chords. It is all slow, limited to a very set range and dull.
Sadly, I find myself wishing I had more to write, but this album is just so bad it's impossible to fake more about how boring it actually is.
The best song is "Chorus And The Ring," the worst of the worst is "Saturn Return."
For other R.E.M. albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Automatic For The People
In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988 – 2000 (Deluxe)
For other music reviews, check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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