R.E.M. Recharged on "Reveal"

New album a return to live band experience
Posted Apr 7, 2001 at 12:00am
When Bill Berry resigned as R.E.M.'s drummer in 1997, the band was faced with replacing one of their original foursome or calling it quits -- they did neither. Instead they holed themselves up in a San Francisco studio and recorded the songs for their eleventh album, Up (1998), without a full-time drummer, and often without a drummer at all.

R.E.M. -- who, with their jangly guitars and comely harmonies, were once hailed for saving rock & roll from synthetic New Wave -- delved deeply into the world of synthesizers and drum machines. Though it drew decent reviews, Up sold poorly and had many of the band's longtime followers wondering what exactly R.E.M. was anymore.

The band's subsequent tour -- with help from Beck band alum Joey Waronker on drums, and Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey and Posie Ken Stringfellow on guitars/keys/etc. -- answered that question: a rock & roll band. "I think the tour in 1999 made us realize that we're a different band, but we're still a band," says guitarist Peter Buck.

And the band feeling carried over into the recording of Reveal, the band's twelfth album, due May 15th. "We tried to approach the tracks in a real live manner, recording them live and then using strings and stuff to overdub it," he says. "This record does have a feel of a kind of warmth that you get when you play together."

According to singer Michael Stipe, inclement weather in Reveal's recording/mixing locales -- which include Vancouver, Dublin and Miami -- may also account for the album's sunnier sound. "We recorded the thing in so many different places, and it was kinda rainy sometimes so maybe we kinda moved toward warm," he says. "But, without sounding vampire-ish, we were able to tap into the energy of each of those places."

Reveal's first single "Imitation of Life," a lushly arranged guitar-strummer with electronic sprinklings, sounds like the missing link between old R.E.M. and new. Oddly enough, it was almost left off the album. "It does have a very R.E.M. feel to it," says Buck. "There's nothing wrong with that, since we are R.E.M. [laughs], but, we tend to think that we didn't really push ourselves forward in some hugely unique way. The reason we kept it on the record is that virtually everybody we played the record to really liked it. We just thought, 'Well, why go out of our way to be difficult?' If people like it, let's stick it on there."

"Kind of the beauty of 'Imitation of Life' is it is very much an R.E.M. song," Stipe says. "It was one of the first ten or fifteen pieces of music that they gave to me, and it was from the very beginning this pop, effervescent thing, and we just allowed it to be that."

As for the album title, bassist Mike Mills warns not to read too much into it. "It's a lyric from a song," he says. "It seems to be somehow appropriate."

"Our manager, Bertis [Downs], named the record 'cause none of us could come up with anything," admits Stipe. "I wanted 'Mount Nothing' -- that was my title . . . but it kinda fell to the wayside."

"I was kind of leaning toward 'Boston's Greatest Hits,' but for some reason the legal department said no," quips Buck. "I don't know, I think it would have been a really big seller."

Written by BILL CRANDALL for RollingStone.com News

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