Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Thirty years into a career and with this, their 15th studio album, it seems a bit rich for REM bassist Mike Mills to say this one is somehow different with really beautiful slow songs, some nice mid-tempo ones and three or four rockers.
That pretty much describes every REM album in the past two decades, and for this one -- despite them talking it up, and Michael Stipe's lyrics even more wilfuly abstruse -- they hardly mess with the template.
There are some songs here which are hard to get attached to (Every Day is Yours to Win) and others which you'll swear you must have heard on one of their albums before (Uberlin). So this is very familiar territory, but as always not without its winners.
The stripped-back, dramatically tense ballads Oh My Heart and Walk It Back you will either hear as emotionally naked songs by Stipe or slightly straining for that effect (I'd argue for the former), and they let loose garageband rock'n'roll (with Lenny Kaye on guitar and Peaches on vocals) on the challengingly titled Alligator-Aviator-Autopilot-Antimatter (which you don't want to type too often) and That Someone Is You which namechecks New Order, Young Marble Giants, Sharon Stone in Casino, Al Pacino and Gran Torino.
The closer Blue (with Patti Smith) is a song-noir where Stipe speaks rapid-fire images over a drone and Smith's dreamlike vocals. It's the least REM-like track here and one of those you return to, and not just because Smith's solo part is so beguiling or the fact it loops you back to the opening track Discoverer.
But overall, 30 years on it sounds like business as usual in the REM camp and while this has its highpoints -- about half the 12 tracks -- it rarely breaks step into new territory so inevitably invites comparison to their earlier and often better albums.
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