Thursday, October 26, 2023

REM #12: Reveal

Release Date: May 14, 2001

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Mike Mills (bass, keyboards)

Additional Musicians: Scott McCaughey (keyboards, percussion) Joey Waronker (drums); Ken Stringfellow (keyboards)

Produced by Pat McCarthy & REM

Side One: The Lifting; I've Been High; All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star); She Just Wants to Be; Disappear; Saturn Return

Side Two: Beat a Drum; Imitation of Life; Summer Turns to High; Chorus and the Ring; I'll Take the Rain; Beachball

By 2001 REM had achieved carte blanche in terms of their career. They were a rich rock band with total creative freedom and a loyal fan base supporting their tours and buying their records. Their legacy was set in stone. Musically, rock and pop no longer commanded the youth market like in decades past. The way consumers were interacting with music was in flux with the internet becoming a Wild West for free downloads and with streaming just around the corner. Part of REM's new mission was assuaging their fan base through reissues, live albums, and collections of unreleased tracks. 

New albums were no longer the centerpiece of a REM's existence, with them becoming cottage industry on their own. Reveal is a stellar album, less experimental than Up, yet seemingly tailor made to be what one would expect from REM. But a subtle unease traverses through the slick lyrics and hypnotic melodies. 

Like most REM tracks, "The Lifting" benefits from multiple listens. Written as a prequel to "Daysleeper" from Up, it's about an office drone who once had high ambitions about life. With its dreamy pop intro that could open a Cardigans song, but there's an emphatic frustration with the character, a figure who imagined a life of color, but it's still black and white. It also contrasts dreams with mundane nature of life, drawing a comparison to " A Day in the Life." 

"I've Been High" applies a retro '80s pop sound, with recurring REM imagery of water, the sky, and falling. "All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna be a Star)" follows a familiar character, a young woman trying to break into show business, musically it feels like a spiritual sequel to "Man on the Moon." Michael Moore directed the playful video for the song, following REM as they visit a Catholic High School in Brooklyn and mingle with the students. 

"She Just Wants to Be" could possibly be about the same character from the previous song, a track celebrating experiencing the world, but also complicating the sentiment. "Disappear" follows a world- weary character on other side of the spectrum of the young person in the precious song, always on the elusive search for meaning and finding nothing, eventually preferring to leave the world. "Saturn Return" continues in a similar vein, the lyrics are labyrinthian with Stipe's haunting vocal and the rich soundscape creates a sublime mood. 

Some have read "Beat a Drum" as a tribute to Bill Berry who left the band to become a farmer, weary of touring and shaken after a brain aneurism, Berry chose the quiet life. The song's themes of transcendentalism also draw parallels to Emerson and Thoreau. "Imitation of Life" could be read as the band satirizing themselves, with its overtly sweet optimism. "Summer Turns to High" also revels in darkly sweet imagery, with hints of Pet Sounds. "Chorus and the Ring" is lyrically the most adventurous. A melancholy resignation sustains "I'll Take the Rain." "Beachball" ends the record on a low key vibe in a jaundiced vision of paradise. 

Musically and lyrically Reveal offers everything one would expect from REM, bright melodies, and sublime lyrics. I marginally prefer Up because of its less constrained style, there's an uneasy insularity on Reveal, a safe record in the best possible sense. 

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