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I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Reveal

Here my history with REM ends. Not because I disliked Reveal, quite the opposite, I was very surprised to find out that a lot of fans rank this album as one of their worst, especially as my sister (who had given up on REM after Monster) liked Reveal. Reveal came out in May 2001, shortly before my Abitur and the summer before I left home to go to Iceland. I spent most summer enjoying the absolute freedom of school out forever and hanging out with my childhood friends, appreciating it even more, because I knew we would all be going our separate ways soon. REM did a few free concerts in order to promote this album and as luck would have it, one was in Cologne, just one hour away from my home. Me, my sister and friends went. We did not bother even trying to get anywhere near the stage, but found a nice sunny spot, sat down with snacks and relaxed. Then my live changed, I went to Iceland and after to university. I went on concerts in small venues and listened to the music of the bands I saw there with REM fading into the background.

They recorded a lot of Reveal in the Caribbean. You can hear this. It is a relaxing summer record and it feels very light. The lyrics are very summary too, there are songs called Summer Turns Too High and Beachball, in The Lifting Stipe sings "the weather's fine, the sky is blue", he also mentions butterflies and dragonflies twice. Of course there is also a song called I'll take the Rain, because he just loves his rain metaphors. They still use the drum machines and electronic toys from Up, but more playfully, like the "blub blub blub!" in All the Way to Reno. They work really well on this album, they create a light and playful, especially on I've Been High, All the Way to Reno, Beachball, Let's just say someone had listened a lot to Moon Safari by Air and gotten inspired. The production is pretty slick, to me it adds to the soft and light feel of the album, but some critics found it lifeless.

The album is more guitar heavy, there is some nice fingerstyle guitar on She Just Wants To Be, Buck's typical jangly guitar on Imitation of Life and Disappear, even some Monster like guitar effects on Chorus and the Ring. Mills's bass is somewhat subdued, mixed in the background and softer sounding than on other records. His background vocals, which were already few on Up have been reduced to a minimum, except in Imitation of Life. He is still busy, almost all songs have Organ, Keyboard or Piano parts. (I just have to say again, REM know how to use an organ). Additional to the drum machines and electronics there are string arrangements, mostly high lofty violins and some really well placed brass arrangements.

Some songs are all the way out there in the new experimental style, like Saturn Return, Summer Turns Too High or the electronic rumba rhythm and brass section of Beachball. Others combine the folksy old style, best known from Automatic for the People with the new elements, like Beat a Drum, I'll take the Rain and Chorus and the Ring (the best songs on the album other than I've Been High). Imitation of Life is the song sounding most like a typical REM song and was the first single (I don't know if chosen by the band or requested by the studio). However, it is a mediocre REM song, still better than Daysleeper though. The strings remind me of the arrangements on Out of Time, especially Shiny Happy People. Stop having one of these cop out songs on your album, guys, just boldly go to the new sound!
Just like Up, Reveal sounds different than previous REM albums, some key elements (Mills's bass and background vocals being prominent, the crisp production from Scott Litt) have vanished and been replaced with keyboards, drum machines and electronics. It is my main reason for liking it, and also the main reason for others disliking it.

Shout outs:
  • I've Been High is the reason these blog posts exist. I was really stressed in March (as everyone) and sitting alone at work (it was closed for my clients), so I thought to listen to some music. It was still winter and dark outside and I wanted something relaxing that would remind me of summer, so I though "I haven't listen to Reveal in years, let's see if it still holds up". After The Lifting the drum machines and keyboard of I've Been High started and I could feel myself relaxing. It's is such a relaxing song and has such a pretty melody. I love the several drum machines, keyboards, high violins and lazy guitar of the album version, though the minimalist live version with only keyboard and acoustic guitar is lovely as well. The small piano part in the bridge is wonderful. I remembered how much I loved this song in particular and REM in general and with several weeks of alone in front of my computer ahead of me, the idea of checking out ALL their albums was born.

  • Beat a Drum and I'll take the Rain all have a lot of things going on. I like how the brass and drum machines in Beat a Drum come together with the more traditionally REM guitar, piano, organ and background vocals. I think the harmonica sounding instrument is a keyboard on I'll take the Rain, then there is another keyboard and a piano in the background (I think Mills just went a bit wild adding parts there). This song is the one truly melancholic song, but cozy, like a rainy day on your summer holiday. I love the bridge, with the high arpeggios by the violins and the guitar riff.

  • I don't know if this actually is a melodica on Chorus and the Ring, but it does remind me of Automatic for the People, while the guitar effects seem inspired by Monster. It's like they deconstructed their own music to reassemble it to something new.

  • Closing thoughts:
    I still like Reveal, I think it holds up. Of course a lot of it comes down to taste, but I enjoyed my three weeks of listening to it on repeat. Why three weeks instead of one? Because I really was trying to delay listening to Around the Sun. I listened to it once and hated it. The next blog post will be short.

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