05 September 2006

R.E.M.: Reveal

Yesterday marked the unofficial end of summer, and summer songs and beach books are fading away until Memorial Day. Maybe I’m a day late, but I’m squeezing in my favorite beach album while it’s still sunny and warm: R.E.M.’s (grossly overlooked) Reveal.

Is Reveal my favorite R.E.M. album? No, it’s probably fifth or sixth from the top of that list. But it’s a brilliant album — one that didn’t receive the attention it deserved, at least here in the U.S. — and its feel is perfect for this moment onthe calendar.

Released in 2001, Reveal is an album of bewitching, atmospheric pop songs and introspective, wistful ballads. It’s the album I want to listen to when the windows are open and a breeze floats through the room. When I’m on the porch, late at night, just me and a bottle of wine. When I’m driving late at night, the sunroof open, the windows down, the road empty. It takes me other places, across the world and deep inside myself.

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I love pomegranate afternoons. And "She Just Wants to Be." When I listen to the song, I wonder when Michael Stipe picked my brain for the lyrics. Backed by Peter’s lonely, sad guitar, it’s heartbreakingly close to my internal self. (In fact, Dan uses it as my ringtone on his cell phone.) And Peter’s opening and closing strums resonate to my core. (A bit of purple prose, yes, but that's how it feels.)

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Lovely laziness permeates “Beat a Drum.” Every time I listen I feel an ocean breeze on my arm. And what a divine rhyme in A bluejay hectors from the felled Catalpa tree / Doctorate in science and a theologians dream / The dragonflies are trying to lecture me / The seahorses as if we were in the sea. I love the cadence of “from the felled Catalpa tree.”

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Peter Buck and Mike Mills have long raved about The Beach Boys, and the Wilsons’ influence can be heard all over Reveal. So don’t tell me you listened to “Summer Turns to High” and didn’t think of “In My Room.” A wonderful homage to one of my favorite Beach Boys tunes.

Was there a more fun pop song released in 2001 than “Imitation of Life”? I just checked the Billboard charts — Train? Jennifer Lopez? I don’t think so. Alicia Keys is good, but not as much fun as this. And you gotta love Mr. Buck and his monkey. Captivating video, catchy tune.

I haven't been fair to Mike Mills in these R.E.M. posts. Music critics (and Warren Zevon) have called him R.E.M.'s secret weapon. He can play nearly every instrument, and his harmonies take Stipe's vocals to a different place. I promise to give him more raves in the next column.

Really, it’s hard not to rave about each tune on this album. Song for song, Reveal is a dazzling album, summer or winter.

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At 9/06/2006 02:02:00 AM, Blogger barista brat said...

i'm going to try very, very hard to appreciate r.e.m. - i promise!

is there a particular album i should start with?

At 9/06/2006 06:17:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

I'll put together a sampler for you, Brat.

At 9/06/2006 07:47:00 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Like you Beth it's probably my 6th favourite R.E.M album. Personally I was disappointed with "Up" and when they returned with this my love for the band was refreshed.

There is a crispness to the songs, and my personal favourite is "All The Way To Reno"

Nice review

At 9/06/2006 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

I love "All the Way to Reno" -- something about the feel of the song really gets me -- and I almost included the video, but I decided to hook the non-fans with the more familiar "Imitation of Life."

Once again, you score music points with me, Ben.

At 9/06/2006 08:00:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

I'm with you all the way on this one Beth (and Ben). It's a warm and great album. Glad you're going to give Mike Mills some more love too as he deserves it.

At 9/06/2006 08:18:00 AM, Blogger ziggystardust73 said...

I know I shouldn't reduce your REM obsession to this, but I have a soft spot for Michael Stipe. In that way.

At 9/06/2006 10:39:00 AM, Blogger Benny said...

I relate Reveal to my ex-boyfriend, so I have some issues getting into it. He was a huge REM fan, and the album did get more attention in the UK.

I think the problem with REM is that mainstream Americans don't know what to do with them. Their songs become anthems ten years down the line, and Michael Stipe is very recognizable, and people usually know they're supposed to respect the band for their artsy innovations, clever lyrics, and longevity, but that doesn't make the band Mtv-ready. Apparently.

I have my own greatest hits mix, and most of the stuff is older.

I am listening to Robyn Hitchcock for the first time- I noticed he's on your list! A-dor-able, non? :-)

PS- the comments aren't allowing me to post! So if you get multiple postings, please forgive!

At 9/06/2006 02:38:00 PM, Blogger gizmorox said...

Reveal was the first album I ever made a conscious decision to buy on the day it came out. I listened to it on repeat for like a month and then I haven't listened to it since. I don't know why that is. I go through phases with REM. But I own all the albums just in case those phases ever hit. :)

At 9/06/2006 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Grant Miller said...

"Out Of Time" is super duper Beach Boysy.

At 9/06/2006 09:28:00 PM, Blogger Scrivener said...

My copy of Reveal is nonfunctional. I've been meaning to replace it for at least a year now, but I don't want to buy another one at full price. Like gizmorox, it was the first album that I consciously planned to rush out and buy the day it was released. Any chance I could bum a copy of it from you? It wouldn't even count as piracy or anything, because I did purchase my own copy at full price, right?

At 9/06/2006 11:41:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

DALE: Rumor has it that Mr. Mills does quite well in the love department ... but he definitely needs some credit on my blog.

ZIGGY: I love you more for it. Mr. Stipe once eye-flirted with me during breakfast, back in the mid-1980s when he was still bi. Ten years later, he flirted with my beau at an album release listening party. I think he's adorable and so f*cking cool.

B: I've missed you! Folks in the U.S. consider R.E.M. a rock band -- but they're really more of a post-punk pop/ballad band. And we're getting older (I'm in their age group), so they're doing songs about where their lives are. It pissed me off that U2 still gets all the press and R.E.M. doesn't. Let's chat about Robyn Hitchcock! I've seen him live many times, and he's quite the charmer on stage. Which albums are you listening to? I'll e-mail you some of my faves.

GIZMOROX: Pull it out and see if you still like it. BTW, starting with Automatic for the People, I've bought every R.E.M. album the night before it came out in Athens because I go to the band's listening party. If you're still in Georgia when the next album is released, you should consider coming up for it.

GRANT MILLER: But covering Reveal was expected less than Out of Time; I was going for unpredictable. As far as I can be unpredictable with R.E.M.

SCRIVENER: I have three copies (yes, three; I have backups of every album); you can have one of mine. And you definitely need to go with us to the next R.E.M. listening party.

At 9/07/2006 09:23:00 PM, Anonymous m said...

you have three backup copies of every rem album? dude, y2k is over...

At 9/07/2006 09:35:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

I always had one copy for home, one for the office, and one for travel. I now have everything ripped to MP3 ... but I still keep two copies because I have to get the limited edition versions with the groovy packaging. I'm a weird fan, remember? I have magnets on my fridge, dammit.

At 9/09/2006 06:49:00 PM, Anonymous m said...

magnets on your fridge? oh my, you scare me.

At 9/10/2006 12:16:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

My love runs deep. And fanatical. And, well, rather creepy.

At 9/10/2006 07:29:00 PM, Anonymous m said...

ok, what is up with the monkey on peter's lap? what dirt did they have on peter to get him to agree to such...'monkey shine'..?? bet his daughters were somehow involved in the negotiations...

At 9/10/2006 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

I think it's because Peter knew I would enjoy it.


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