My brother once had a great insight into R.E.M: “They’re so good at writing pretty good songs,” he said. What a fair statement to make regarding the trio’s 12th album, Reveal. Very similar to 1998’s satisfying Up, R.E.M. has come out with a very earnest and soulful album that gradually grows on you. Though brilliant at times, it’s still an album of pretty good songs that doesn’t quite live up to R.E.M.’s great stuff.
There’s nothing too surprising about the sounds on Reveal. We have Peter Buck’s jangly guitar anchored by Mike Mills’ solid bass and synths. Add some modern studio sounds and Michael Stipes’ soaring vocals and you’ve got the R.E.M. sound you should now be familiar with after two decades. On Reveal, the trio concentrates on writing upbeat poppy numbers with catchy hooks (“All the Way to Reno,” the album’s standout track) and amazing melodies (“The Lifting”) but foregoes anything too experimental or dissonant.
It’s this conscious poppiness, however, that makes the album disappointingly adult contemporary. When Stipes sings, “I used to think, as birds take wing, they sing through life, so why can’t we?” on “I’ll Take the Rain,” you can imagine your parents nodding in unison. Though the band creates some nice sounds, much of the time Reveal’s tone seems to be stuck in a time warp. But perhaps this staidness is part of the group’s charm.
Conservatively conceived from a musical standpoint, Reveal may disappoint those hoping for a return to the glory days of Automatic for the People. If you’re one of those people who likes to drink chamomile tea before you go to bed and are of the opinion that DP is cheap, loud and abrasive, perhaps Reveal is the album for you.