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I have always like REM, but for me they are a little to POP. Some of there music lasks the edge I tend to enjoy in music. However this album 'New adventures in Hi-Fi changes all that! They are like a new band, heavy rock, loud guitars, agressive lyrics, very un REM. Thats why I love it so!! So as usual here is what I think of each song.
1. How the west was won and where it got us - An unusual song to start. Some strange words and weird music, quite a slow song and when I first heard this I wondered if had made an error in judgment buying this! 7/10
2. The Wake-up Bomb - BANG!!! Album explodes into life! Loud guitars fast beat, everything I love in a song. 'Practice my T-Rex moves and cause a scene'. Typical of the edgy lyrics in this awesome song! 9/10
3. New Test Leper - 'I cant say I love Jesus, that would be a hollow claim. He did make some obsevations and I quote em every day'. I love this openig line. Not really a heavy rock song like the last, still a really good one though. 8/10
4. Undertow - Starts of quite slow with lots of background static, then really kicks into gear in the chorus. Powerful muisic here from REM. 8/10
5. E-Bow the Letter - They released this as a single and I wasn't really that keen. Think it sounds really morbid. Still a very moving song though. 7/10
6. Leave - I love this song. Featured in the soundtrack for 'a life less ordinary'. For the first minute there is a simple gentle accoustic riff playing. Then suddenly all hell breaks loose. Same riff played with heavy distortion and sirens in the back ground. Amazing! Some powerful lyrics as well, brilliant! 10/10
7. Departure - Heavy rock and awesome rythem, fast paced music at its best! 9/10
8. Bittersweet me - This one is a little slower, but it still packs a punch. 'I'd sooner chew my leg off, than me trapped in this with you'. I love that line, shows the real passion Stipe puts into his words! 9/10
9. Be Mine - A lovely little song, heavy guitar but strangly chilling 8/10
10. Binky the doormat - Another really good solid song. Loud and angry. Awsome stuff. 8/10
11. Zither - Strange little instrumental 7/10
12. So fast, so numb - Banging drums starts this off and then it lauches into full on rock! Another song I love, 'You say that, you hate it, you want to re-create it'! Brilliant! 9/10
13. Low Desert - Slower song still with heavy guitars. Not my fav but still a song I am happy listening to. 8/10
14. Electolite - This last song is more what you expect from the band. Pleasent music and tame lyrics. A nice end to the album, but is funny that the last word you can use to describe the rest of the album is nice. A strange on to finish on, reminds me of 'Nightswimming'. 7/10
Overall this is one of my all time favorite albums. I have alot of other REM albums and none of them come close to this one! If you want something a bit different, buy this!
R.E.M. are a band I have grown up with. From first hearing "Shiny, Happy People" on the radio at the tender age of twelve in 1991 (Where does the time go people?) I have been hooked by their distinct sound and unique music. However, it was the release of New Adventures in Hi-Fi that propelled them through my CD collection to become my favourite band and there they have remained ever since.
Released in 1996 New Adventures in Hi-Fi is for me R.E.M's finest hour. It is not in any way a commercial album and as such does not contain instantly catchy songs like in previous albums. You will find no "Losing My Religion" here nor will you find an "Everybody Hurts". However, what you will find is a stripped down experiment in music you will never hear the likes of again by R.E.M. or anyone else.
You are given an idea of things to come as soon as you look at the album. There is no picture of the band grinning cheesily, no guitars, no naked women. Instead what you get is an apocalyptic black and white wasteland with the band and album title printed neatly in simple fonts. This represents perfectly the blank canvas this album is all about. Forget everything you have ever known about R.E.M. There renowned folk/rock sound is not what there about here
Beginning with the slow paced "How the West was won and where it got us". Piano based and intentionally maudlin it is depressive in tone. It talks of mans bitter outlook on life and tendency to destroy the earth and itself. Michael Stipes vocals are anguished and heartfelt and he adds an emotion to what could have been a dour beginning.
"Canary got trapped, the uranium mine.
A stroke of bad luck, now the bird has died.
A marker to mark where my tears run dry.
I cross it, bless it, alkali."
"Wake-Up Bomb" has a much rockier feel and does indeed wake you up after the emotional but inevitably depressing opening track. With a good old fashioned electric guitar riff throughout this is R.E.M. doing traditional rock like no one else could (awaits the backlash from R.E.M fans!). This track has a real hook to it. It isn't catchy in the traditional sense but you still find your head banging along to it and there is a fantastic bridge to it, which cries out for you to crank it up, wind your car window down and embarrass yourself with your roaring Michael Stipe impression. Stipes vocals sound much rawer on this. It is a pleasant and surprising change to hear the gravel in his voice brought to the fore in this tale of a cynic who thinks he has done it all.
"My head's on fire and high esteem
Carry my dead, bored, been there, done that, anything
Oh, the wake-up bomb"
R.E.M slow down again for the next track "New Test Leper". Another stripped down track this song is driven by an acoustic guitar, some maracas and Stipes vocals. A morality tale this track tells the tale of someone trying to tell his story to the world and is ignored for going against the views of the majority. A short but poignant track Stipes vocals have a real storytelling quality and this adds emphasis to the lyrics.
"I thought I might help them understand
but what an ugly thing to see.
'I am not an animal'
subtitled under the screen."
The fourth track in this album is "Undertow". Moving away from the acoustic and into heavy metal territory the electric guitar is predominant and cranked up for this track. However, this is no speed metal track. It is another medium paced trip into the bittersweet this time tackling the subject of death. The electric guitar provides an angry riff throughout as Stipe wails and fights through a song about a fear of death and its inevitability. Although this track has a good concept for me it is the weakest of the album. The overriding guitar drowns out Stipes superb vocals and for me that is never a good thing.
"This is not my time, brother
It is cold in heaven
And Im not sprouting wings"
"E-Bow the letter" is one of two commercially successful songs of this album and it is easy to see why. Stipes vocals are allowed to take front and centre and a superb song results. From the get go Stipe is the first thing you hear. The song has almost a dreamlike quality with what can only be described as an underwater sound. The inclusion of a Zitar further adds to the dreamlike quality. Perhaps this is because the song is duplicitous. It has meanings on different levels. Is it a simple story of love? Possible but unlikely with R.E.M. It seems to be about fame and the trappings that come with it.
"This fame thing, I dont get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it"
The most successful track of this experimental album has to be the breathtaking "Leave". The song lulls you into a false sense of security with the simplest guitar intro played on one string (I know this because its the only intro I can play!) then launches you headfirst into an electric frenzy. With an alarm playing throughout and the best electric guitar riff I have ever heard it grabs you and doesn't let go. Stipes vocals echo through this tale of missed opportunities and running out of time (unintentional R.E.M. pun!).
"I sent it on an airline plane
I sent it off in an airplane
That never left the ground."
"Departure" is just that. Whereas all tracks before have had a depressive atmosphere this is a tale of the anti-hero. Although it still remains the life is short philosophy present throughout the album it has an optimistic live for the day quality which is refreshing. This track succeeds were previous track "Undertow" failed. Again a predominantly loud electric guitar driven track it still allows room for Stipes growling vocals and as such a short but sweet rock anthem is created.
"Just arrived singapore, san sebastian, spain, 26-hour trip.
Salt lake city, come in spring.
Over the salt flats a hailstorm brought you back to me."
The eighth track "Bittersweet Me" is the other successful single on this album. This album loses Stipes gravely vocal in place of a more rhythmic rock track. With more structure than anywhere else on the album there is a clear verse-chorus link in this tale of a mans indecision as to what he wants from life. Luckily it is a strong combination. This is another "in the car window down" track and this is welcome on an otherwise eclectic album. This is probably as close as you will get to traditional R.E.M and has a "What's the Frequency?" vibe to it.
"I'd sooner chew my leg off,
Than be trapped in this.
How easy you think of all of this as bittersweet me"
After all that rock it is good that R.E.M. choose to slow things down for their next track "Be Mine".
The electric guitar is still present but has been turned down and slowed down so Stipe can serenade in this slow rock love song. Stipe is very low key in this song allowing the lyrics to do the talking. The song is reminiscent of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" and for me there can be no greater praise. Starting quietly it has a great tempo and rises to a superb crescendo towards the end.
"I'll strip the world that you must live in
Of all its godforsaken greed.
I'll ply the tar of your feathers.
I'll pluck the thorns out of your feet."
Track ten and the rules change again. "Binky the Doormat" is almost like college rock. For the first time there are notable backing vocals and the electric guitar remains toned down. This is a song almost dominated by superb backing vocals with Stipe almost talking his way through the tale of being a doormat in love and life. A strong track with a good rhythm that for some reason is let down by Stipe's weak vocals. This is surprising since Stipe has a superb range. It can only be presumed his heart wasn't in this one.
"have you lost your place?
I wore my doormat face.
I hung my this or that.
I laid my welcome mat."
Track twelve "Zither" is just bizarre. An entirely instrumental piece it has a pleasant use of guitar and you guessed it Zither but it is short and somewhat a pointless filler. Surely this was meant for the cutting room floor? It plays like the beginning of a sitcom and that would probably were it should be.
"So Fast, So Numb" sees Stipe back on top form. With no intro to speak of this is a good mix of strong, grainy vocal from Stipe, electric guitar and piano. The best feature of this song is the arrangement. There is an excellent guitar solo as well as Stipe singing with barely any accompaniment. Another of my favourites it talks of a boy living for the now with no thought for tomorrow.
"it's all amphetamine
you're blasting yourself into the present
to blur some past indignity, say that,"
Track thirteen "Low Desert" is a slow Western style tune, which for some reason reminds me of Rawhide! The song would provide an excellent accompaniment to a Western but is a lightly weak as a standalone track. Stipes vocals are ever strong but it has no real hook without any chorus to speak of and the lyrics do little to inspire talking of the ravages of townsfolk and escaping to the country.
"An eyelash or a little bit of sleep? time stands still
Just call it now and youre on your way (hey, hey hey, hey)"
Lastly is the considered unsuccessful single "Electrolite". Ending as the album began this is a slow piano and drum led piece. Why this song was not a success is beyond me. Superb vocals from Stipe and a great hook in the form of a catchy chorus this song is like "Nightswimming" but less irritating and catchier. Perhaps after the rockier "Bittersweet Me" people were not expecting this lilting tale of fear of meeting celebrity. Regardless this is a great end to a great album.
"You are the star tonight.
You shine electric outta sight.
You light eclipsed the moon tonight.
Youre outta sight"
In case you haven't gathered by now I love this album. As a fan I can honestly say this is their defining moment. Perhaps it is not an album for everyone. If you like one genre then this is not for you. If you like R.E.M. singing "Shiny, Happy People" this may not be for you. However, if you want to try an ingenious album brimming with ideas this is for you.
The closest thing I can compare to this to is a Radiohead album. However, this album precedes and far excels anything Radiohead has ever released and I urge you to try it. Go on you won't regret it.
'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' is one of R.E.M.'s most under-rated albums. It was released in 1996, just two years after 'Monster' and hot on the heals of the ill-fated Monster World Tour, during which only Peter Buck was left physically untouched by serious illness. All of the material contained on New Adventures was written during that tour, recorded at sound checks, in back rooms, or simply prepared for studio recording. At the time I remember being pleasantly surprised that Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe had managed to release another album so quickly, and today I am equally as thankful - want to know why? Well, anyone who knows anything about me knows my obsession with R.E.M. I am an out and out fan of their distinctive style that owes a large amount to their college rock roots. (They all met in Athens, Georgia when they were studying.) One of their most recognisable traits is front-man Michael Stipe's striking voice and enigmatic lyrics, often combined with Mike Mills' melodic harmonies. Each member of this band has his own influence to bear on the way in which the bands music evolves, and it is no coincidence that since Bill Berry left the band, (shortly before recording the bands next album Up,) R.E.M. has taken a more dramatic stylistic departure moving towards a more studio produced, some would say, lusher sound. In learning the mandolin Peter Buck created one of the bands most enduring songs - 'Losing My Religion' - which helped gain them more widespread recognition. (Well, it caught my attention.) He has also created some of the sexiest sounds I've heard come from a guitar - many of which are found on this album. For those of you who know R.E.M, but don't know this album, I would suggest that this album sounds like a hybrid of 'Automatic for the People' (the album most people associate with these boys) and 'Monster' (an album which confused some of R.E.M.'s followers.)
In Automatic there are some beautiful songs whose harmonies and lyrics leave a visual and vocal mark upon the listener; whereas in 'Monster' the action is cranked up with a more grungy sound combining lots of guitars, lots of drums and Michael's voice pushing in gruffer, harsher directions than anyone could have imagined from the band's previous offerings. So, where does that leave New Adventures In Hi-Fi? I would say that it is an album which is much more accessible to the traditional R.E.M. fan than Monster. Automatic's folksy melody is there, but Stipe's voice has an extra depth and variation, that could not have happened without 'Monster', and lets not forget that extra bit of grunt courtesy of Buck's guitars and a heavier beat from Berry's drums. The album opens with a song which I believe was released as a single (please feel free to correct me here), 'How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us'. This song is a great opener that feels like it should be sung in a small and smoky venue. It starts with a repetitive beat and re-occurring piano motif, a trick which seems to be used throughout the album. A reedy sounding instrument is used to give a slight jazzy hint which Stipe's slightly gruff vocals, sung in a low and melodic fashion, add to - a style of singing that seems to draw out his slight Southern drawl. Balancing this are Mills' harmonies which, as ever are barely audible. As ever the lyrics are enigmatic, but this all helps create a song which you really feel, but one that is strangely adaptable. It is a song that you can cry to, or a song that you strut your stuff to - feeling just that little bit funky! (Er... I don't do that in my room... on my own... honest...) The next song that really deserves note is 'E-Bow The Letter', which I believe was originally a letter written by Michael Stipe. One of the most interesting things about this song, is that it seems to bri
ng the band full circle. Most of the band members site Patti Smith's album 'Horses' as one of their influences. (If you haven't heard her, she is well worth listening too.) She is now a friend of the band, and a guest on this track, and Michael seems to have drawn a lot on her voice which as equally as strong and distinctive as his. In fact, I would say that I have never heard a female singer who sings with quite the strength and distinctiveness of Patti. Again the song opens with a repetitive beat that is echoed both by piano and guitar. Michael half-speaks, half-sings the words - his rhythm creating an interesting feel by occasionally being at odds with the beat that has already been set up. Patti's rich, warm and soulful vocals slip in like treacle, creating a yearning that is both uplifting and heart-wrenching. The lyrics are truly evocative: 'Aluminium, tastes like fear, Adrenaline, holds us near', with Patti's 'I take you over' searing over the top, and augmented by Buck's moaning guitars. This all creates a song that packs a punch, but that can be sung along to with all the passion you have in your body. My ultimate favourite on this album comes next. The song is 'Leave' and runs at a mammoth seven minutes - the longest R.E.M. song to date. A guitar riff and organ (I'm guessing a bit here) repeat a gentle motif, that almost seems to die away until suddenly, when you thought it was the shortest R.E.M song ever, a siren kicks in, wailing over the top. This dies away allowing the guitar to take up the rhythm, quickening it's pace to soar over the top. This is a song that rocks. Throughout the song the siren wailes, guitar sexily keeping pace with it, and bass adds to the rhythm. The variation in the guitar aiding Stipe's more melodic, yet punchy musings: 'That's what keeps me, that's what keeps me, that's what keeps me down. You leavin', you leave it, le
ave it all behind.' That 'leave' is filled with yearning, but unlike 'E-Bow The Letter' it throbs with a higher intensity, a stronger pain. This is a song that you can be angry to, a song that you can cry to, a song with stronger emotion. Strangely though, it is a song that doesn't bring you down, reminding you that you have been there and felt that, but it is only a memory. 'Be Mine' opens with what sounds like an aircraft radioing in, and a repetitive piccing sound. It is one of the most gentle tracks on the album. With the music at its most simple and Michael's voice at its most gentle. It is hauntingly beautiful track whose lyrics betray something deeper 'I want to be your Easter Bunny, I want to be your Christmas tree.' It is a wishful song, possibly about unrequited love. It's simple beauty make it truly uplifting. A real little gem. The closing song on the album is 'Electrolite', which is a light, cheery little folksy tune, with such lines as 'You are the star tonight, the sun electric, out of sight.' The combination of violins and piano, used in earlier album's like 'Automatic' or 'Out of Time', make a reappearance that reminds us of the band's Southern roots. Mills' 'ahh'-ing of old, harmonising with Stipe's lighter voice create an upbeat tune that closes the album on a light note and the line 'I'm outta here'. In this case, however, the only one who was 'outta here' was Bill Berry. For me, there is only one weak track on the album, but this song is still distinctive and interesting. Zither is the only instrumental on 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi', and to be honest that is my only problem with it. R.E.M. are at their best with their enigmatic lyrics and the complementary Mills and Stipe vocals. I have a pet theory on why this album didn't make the impact that it could have at th
e time. The album does seem to incorporate several different faces of R.E.M, not all of which appeal to everybody. For that reason it is also an album which demands repeated listening, and is not one that you can simply pick up and fall rapturously in love with. It is strung with so much intensity and emotion that you will adore it, but I suppose there is a question over whether all of the styles are your cup of tea. It was a daring and adventurous album, one which Warner didn't know how to market. I remember the album just being sprung upon the public as the next R.E.M. They didn't seem to be able to fix a label upon the album in order to promote it. Possibly there is also a case for arguing that the music of the time had shifted away from what R.E.M. was doing too. Indie college rock had made way for Brit pop. Whatever the reason Warner haven't known what to do with their incredibly expensive signing since. The level of promotion for their latest album, 'Reveal', in the US was miniscule compared to what happened across Europe. All of which doesn't really bode well for a group which I think are one of the most original bands around. Here's hoping that R.E.M.'s exciting and eclectic offering might make it into a few more people's collections, and that this band will continue making music that is interesting and evolves over time. Bill Berry may have made his last album with 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' but Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck are still trying to create as adventurous music as a four. Cover: Black and white picture of a desert landscape, with a the lights of the city on the other side. Includes information on inlay as to who played what and where it was recorded. Track List: 1. How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us 2. The Wake-Up Bomb 3. New Test Leper 4. Undertow 5. E-Bow The Letter 6. Leave 7. Departure 8. B
ittersweet Me 9. Be Mine 10. Binky The Doormat 11. Zither 12. So Fast, So Numb 13. Low Desert 14. Electorlite Official website: www.remhq.com Album length: approx 65 minutes Amazon price: £11.99 (You can pick up cheaper if you shop around.)
Probably the most overlooked R.E.M. album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi outwardly appears to be a hotch-potch of different styles, disjointedly compiled, and unfortunately for many as easily forgotten as it is missed on the record store's shelf. But it is, as you've probably guessed I would say, so much more than that. For those not as familiar with R.E.M. as I am, and also for those who may have, however bizarrely, developed a distaste for their particular strand of alternative-rock, R.E.M. are about the intangibility of the true essence of the world we inhabit. I know what your thinking, 'what a pretentious wipesnagger', but New Adventures is a perfect example of this (the intangibility thing, not me being pretentious) - in many ways it is a continuation of what they started in 'Automatic For The People', the bands most acclaimed, yet darkly subliminal album. From their murmuring beginnings in 1983, the band quickly built up a repertoire of truly American college rock - some brilliantly covert, and some toetapping and thundersome. Even more layers were added at the end of the 1980s when Peter Buck, the band's guitar vituoso, dusted off his mandolin for 1988's 'Green' and 1991's 'Out Of Time' and the band produced their most life affirming collections of rock and pop yet. But it was around this time that R.E.M. decided that they wanted to delve a little deeper, and subsequently, a little darker. So in 1992 they released 'Automatic...' and for it became the biggest band in the world. This was a quiet album...an album that they didn't tour, and even refused to talk about for the most part. They wanted to let the music speak for itself. However, within the band there was a pair of itchy feet - namely those of Bill Berry, the band's highly talented drummer. He made it clear to the others that he wanted the next album to rock, because, as you can imagine, when a band releases a low-key albu
m that they don't take on tour, there wasn't an awful lot for a drummer to do. And so, in 1994, they released 'Monster', and rock it did. In grand style. The tour was a sellout, and in Britain alone bands such as The Beautiful South, Oasis and Blur all clammered to support. But it seemed that what they had started in 1992, they hadn't quite finished. And so, finally (I new I'd get there eventually), New Adventures In Hi-Fi was born. While on the road with Monster, the band laid down 10 tracks on tape, recorded live in backrooms and at sound checks, and wrote a further four that they would later record in studio. And thats what New Adventures was. These dark and random gushes that would have cost them dearly if they hadn't released. The opening bars of the first track, 'How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us' set you up for an enthralling and shakey ride through the psyche of a troubled band. This song was one of the albums four singles, and an dd choice in my view, as its not one of my favourite. Brilliant, don't get me wrong, but not a favourite. Listening to it you think, 'boy, this song is taking a while to get going', and then you realise that its not going to, as the song quietly signs off. You're intrigued. You've just heard a very pleasant melody with very poignant lyrics set to it, but you can't help but feel they held back. But all this is forgotten as 'The Wake-Up Bomb' thunders into stereo. An epic rock song, that sounds like its ripped from the pages of 'Monster', and one of the album's many should've-been-a-single-but-wasn't-songs, especially with the brilliant line 'I look good in metallic sick'. The listener is then treated to a real gem of a song, 'New Test Leper'. This song, which sees Michael Stipe at his most poignant, opens with these beautiful words: "I can't say that I love Jesus, that would be a hollow claim. He did make
some observations and I'm quoting them today. 'Judge not lest ye be judged', what a beautiful refrain. The studio audience disagrees. Have these lambs all gone astray?" This song seems to be about a guest on a Jerry Springer-esque chat show who watches as the other guests are provoked and reduced to the state of wild animals for the sake of entertainment and the will of the uncaring host. As the album divines over love, hope and the will of tragedy, the listener is submersed in the moans of raw guitars, bellowing bass-lines and distressing vocals. The first time I listened to the album through, many a time did I have to pause it to catch my breath and compose myself. It is all too possible to get lost in it all. 'E-Bow The Letter' (another odd choice for a single) is worth mentioning here, because if this doesn't provoke a reaction, nothing will. The lyrics are an adaptation of a letter the Michael Stipe wrote to an anonymous party some time before, and this is set to Peter Buck playing his electric guitar with a violin bow - hence the songs title. The female guest vocalist on this track his none other than the legendary Patti Smith (listen to the album 'Horses'), who sings her few repeated lines with a penetrating moan, adding a positively maternal aspect to this song of love and fame. This track is followed by 'Leave', one of the best on this album. The first minute is consumed by a quiet acoustic introduction, which is suddenly broken by a synthesiser doing an impression of a car alarm. It's dark and epic before its even begun. This is a true rock song, complete with false ending, and it leaves you breathless. Track 8 is 'Bittersweet Me', the albums third single. I mention this song purely for one line - "I'd sooner chew my leg off, than be trapped in this", which is sung brilliantly by Michael Stipe. Maybe it's just me. Otherwise this is an adequate, enjoyable rock song. Then co
mes my favourite R.E.M. song ever, 'Be Mine'. Just listen to it, please. I won't say to much about it, other than gadzooks. Buck's guitar line is heartwrenching. The lyrics are beautiful, what everyone I imagine would want to articulate to the one they love. I love everything about it. A couple of tracks later you get the purely instrumental 'Zither', a folksy number that Peter Buck twanged out in a dressing room in Philadelphia. He's really quite good you know! After about 61 minutes, the album signs off with 'Electrolite', the fourth single. This song breaks with the tradition set by the rest of the album as it is a return to the happy beach-boysy melodies that they do so well, and which dominated last years 'Reveal'. This song is an exorcism of sorts, and a perfect way to end such a dark album. Its declares to the world that the band have done what they needed to do, all the demons are gone and everything is going to be OK, ending with the line "I'm not scared, I'm outta here." But if you must have demons, what demons to have! This album is one of my all time favourites, but unfortunately is subject to indifference. At the time the public were much too concerned with the likes of Oasis and Radiohead to notice this album's grey cover frowning down from the CD rack, and now it has been forgotten. At least hate would give it the attention it deserves. But this isn't an album to hate. It's not perfect, but what is? And I'm not even sure I would recommend it to a first-time R.E.M. listener. All I can tell you is that its real and from the heart. Unfortunately, this was Bill Berry's last album following a brain aneurysm that he suffered on-stage during the Monster tour. This sent the band into turmoil and closer to splitting up than they've ever been, trying to exist for the first time in a 16 year career as a three-piece rather than a four. But, y'know what, eveything
worked out OK in the end, and the band (Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe) are currently putting down material for their 13th studio album. I'm outta here.
Now, we all know that REM are supposed to have fallen into an awful lull in recent years, with the throwaway 'Monster', and a difficult 'Up'. But how fair is that on 'New Adventures...'? Well, it all depends how you measure it. 'Out Of Time' had classic album written right the way through it, like a stick of rock. And 'Automatic For The People' was at least as good, with what is possibly the Best Ever REM Song: "Find The River". But! i digress! What about 'New Adventures...'? Well, musically, it's not a million miles from the two preceding albums. But it didn't get anything like the sales they did. How come? The album opens, and progresses, with five strong songs. A dark "How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us" features a well-placed solo from an atonal piano. "The Wake-Up Bomb" is raucous and enjoyable. "New Test Leper" is one of those pretty, obtusely-monikered REM tunes. "Undertow" is a straight-ahead anthem, and all the better for it. And "E-Bow The Letter" - there they go with those titles again - is a brilliantly moving atmosphere piece, with a great spoken-word verse from Stipe and haunting guest vocals from Patti Smith in the choruses. It does lose the plot a little after this high-point. The next few tracks are good, but not quite as good. "Leave" starts well, then gets all repetitive. "Departure" is feel-good, but a bit obvious too - the sort of thing they did with more edge on earlier, IRS-released albums. "Bittersweet Me" is probably the best moment from the middle of the album, though it is REM with one eye on the radioplay. The trouble with the tracks in the later half of the album, is that they all sound too much like other REM tracks - "Be Mine", for one, is a retread of i'm-not-sure-what from 'Out Of Time'. "Zither" i
s the worst offender, being all too close to the earlier "New Orleans Instrumental No.1". A couple more okay tracks later, though, and they close with the absolute highlight of the album, the beautiful "Electrolite". If it has shades of "Find The River"... well, they can carry on writing songs like this until the mooses come home, as far as i'm concerned. It's simple, sweet, and a little sad: quintessential REM. All i can find to blame for this album's less-than-great reception, is the fact that many of the songs, written and recorded while in the midst of a mammoth world tour... sound like they were written and recorded during a mammoth world tour. "The Wake-Up Bomb" and "So Fast, So Numb" are particularly soundcheck-y, and so too is "Undertow", though it impresses more simply by virtue of being a better song. So, this isn't an album that will contend with 'Document', 'Green', or the aforementioned 'Out Of Time' or 'Automatic For The People'. But this is REM, and their less-inspired days are still a world of quality away from other, less wonderful bands.
Something of a departure for R.E.M, New Adventures in Hi-Fi is a fascinating and involved album, the story being that all the songs were recorded between performances whilst touring, and given that an entire album has never before been recorded in this fashion, inspired said album title. Following on from their great, yet not altogether too well received tour album "Monster" the album opens with the lightweight "How the west was won, and where it got us". A softly spoken, gentle and un-invoking number, it's a fair enough track, with perhaps a few too many ideas for its own good, and some strange musical interludes including a strange, tuneless, piano interlude. Inoffensive, and ultimately quite a satisfying number, yet not a particularly stand out track. Next up is the far superior "Wake Up Bomb". This is a fast paced, rocking and hugely catchy track with superior lyrical content, a pounding, awesome chorus and Stipe's superior vocal. Hugely likeable and very loud, with wailing guitars and awesome structure, this is a very classy number. Next in line is the beautiful, melodic and very pretty "New Test Leper". One of the best tracks on the entire album, and certainly one of my favourites, the lyrical content on offer here is quite beautiful. A lovely, gentle and instantly likeable track, I couldn't help but to love this one from the very first here. A truely gorgeous semi-acoustic tune, this is nothing short of adorable. Following on is the downbeat and initially messy in sound "Undertow". Dark and rather gritty, this has a superior hook and a catchy, memorable chorus. With a number of good ideas, this is a simplistic and downtrodden, despondent affair. "E-Bow the Letter" the letter on the other hand, is a spark of brilliance. Clear, intelligent, vocals, a cacaphony of gentle guitar, this is a unfeasibly catchy gem with an unforgettable chorus and a br
illiant, sweeping guitar background that grabs tightly and won't let go. Very nice indeed. The next track however, is even better. I can't say enough good things about "Leave". It's is a very moving track indeed, and even a quick listen now makes me slightly teary-eyed :) Starting out with a light, gentle acoustic introduction, a barrage of guitars comes in from nowhere, before the powerful lead comes through. This is utterly epic in content. By the time Stipe's pretty, ambigious lyrics come through, you'll be realising what a absolutely stunning track this really is. My favourite on the entire album, this is something very special indeed. Next up we have "Departure". A catchy, bouncy and jangly song, with a repetitive, likeable guitar backing, this is a upbeat, fun and head-bouncing track with superior lyrics, this is loud, involved and enjoyable. "Bittersweet me" is a somewhat gentler affair, with Michael's soft lyrics against a a backdrop of superior guitar and pounding bass. Slightly silly in content, yet unlikely to annoy, this is yet another good effort. "Be Mine" on the other hand, is very pretty and instantly likeable. Starting with a scrambled radio transmission introduction, this has an absolute belter of a chorus and is infused with gentle, endearing charm. The guitar on this one is fantastic, and the vocals are heartpounding in their stark simplicity. A very, very good track indeed. "Binky the doormat" is a eccentric and bizarre track with some very strange, even kooky ideas throughout the proceedings. With no instantly recognisable hook, and a number of varying styles throughout, this is a loud rock number brimming with unusual ideas. Not a bad track by any means, not a standout either, this is very odd indeed, and difficult to categorise. Track 11 is the interesting "Zither" with its unusual use of instrumentation an
d superior guitar intro, this promises a lot, and in the main, delivers. Again, this is a very strange affair, with some nice, likeable ideas, but repetitive with it, and not a word spoken throughout. "So fast, so numb" is great, however. Loud and pounding, this is a superior rock number, which presents a stark contrast to the tune it follows. I defy the listener not to enjoy this one, with it's grandiose electric guitar and loud, excellent use of backing. Very catchy, and addictive with it, another superb track. Second to last is "Low Desert" a much more sombre affair with deepy, bassy resonnance throughout, this song will sweep over the listener. Neither offensive or particularly inspiring, this is a quality affair from a quality band, but not particularly a stand out track. The last track on this superior album is the gently bouncy "Electrolite". A nice little tune to close proceedings, this has pretty, complimentary lyrics throughout with good use of vocal accompaniment and gentle, twinkly piano backing. The chorus is memorable, and there is a great variance in instrumentation to keep the listener involved. A very nice tune, this is a superior track to end this immensely likeable album on. In summary then, New Adventures in Hi-Fi is a culmination of unfeasibly superior tracks "Leave, E-Bow the Letter, Next Test Leper, Be Mine" and very good tracks "Wake Up Bomb, Electrolite" et al, with no filler tracks whatsoever. Hugely likeable, and very pretty, in terms of REM's discography, this album should receive the highest aclaim.
I've followed REM since 1984, got all their albums as they came out, have loved every one of them, but I think this one was the nicest surprise. It wasn't quite like anything else they'd done previously, but, unlike "Monster" before it, "New Adventures" seemed less indulgent, somehow, and gelled together as an album, and as usual with REM, there are many sublime moments. There's still a lot of the trademark REM sound: Peter Buck's guitar riffs providing much of the impetus, even the Mike Mills harmonies on some tracks (notably "Undertow", "So fast so numb" and "Departure"), but there was plenty to persuade us that REM were not just going to tread water. There are two songs which remind me very much of Bristol-based band the Blue Aeroplanes: it's most evident on "E-Bow the letter", with it's spoken lyrics, but also on the guitar riffs of "Departure". I don't know whether it's coincidence or not, but two songs sounding like someone else like that (a pretty obscure band, I mean) is more than you'd expect on one album. "E-Bow the letter" has the added distinction of harmonies from Patti Smith. Like I say, a bit of a departure in style for REM, but it works perfectly. Then there's the gentle "Zither", something else entirely different, and "Leave", a tour de force with its heavy-ish guitar and feedback. "The wake-up bomb" has a glam feel to it, even acknowledged in the lyrics: "I practice my T.Rex moves". "So Fast So Numb" is my favourite track. I love the bit in the middle, after the guitar solo, where it's just the acoustic guitars and Stipe singing, and then (the big surprise for me) you don't just get the verse-chorus-verse routine - along comes another, second acoustic-guitar break, which for some reason usually just about finishes me off. "Elect
rolite" finishes the album in the style of "Automatic for the people" - a lilting tune, with a fairly simple piano accompaniment, it leaves you wanting more. Stipe seems to be commenting on all the critical acclaim / expectation, and even, possibly, his manipulation of this, when he sings, on "So fast so numb": "Listen: this is now, this is here, this is me, this is what I wanted you to see". Well, that was then, in 1996, and this album was what I wanted to hear.
Recording during their draining and ill-fated MONSTER tour, REM are in reflective and downbeat mood on NEW ADVENTURES IN HI-FI. Even the album's title is steeped in wearied irony, and nearly all the lyrics revolve around moving and epic journeys. At it best, NEW ADVENTURES is excellent. The rolling piano on the opener 'How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us' warms up the engine, and the album chugs along with an easy charm. Highlights include the beautiful folk-pop of 'New Test Leper', the seven-minute experimental piece 'Leave', soft ballad 'Electrolite', and 'E-Bow The Letter', a doomy country-rock song featuring REM heroine Patti Smith. Sonically it is a loose and varied album, made up of tapes from both live and studio recordings. However this lack of structure is perfect for the ragged, jumbled tone of the record's lyrics and instrumentation. Some of the hard rockers, which were mainly MONSTER out-takes, are not complete successes, and clocking in at over an hour, it is probably not for those who want a collection of short, snappy pop songs. NEW ADVENTURES IN HI-FI is by no means one of REM's very best albums, but its delightfully winding, patched-together feel makes it a unique and thoroughly enjoyable entry in their illustrious recording career.
I don’t like this album quite as much as Monster, the only other Rem album I’ve got, but I can still see the talent that has gone into making it. It comes across as more mature, more organised and a little more chilled out than Monster, and it’s got some great songs on it. E-Bow The Letter is pretty moving, with some great vocals, and Electrolite pleasantly upbeat yet calm. The rest of the somgs are also worth the bother, but overall, there are so many other CDs I could recommend that this one really only ranks as average in my eyes.
After the experimental and critically unpopular 'Monster', REM again experimented and failed to return to the music which made them big from 'Out Of Time' and 'Automatic For The People'. However this time it works, and the album shows a band maturing and changing their style without losing any of their edge. The album starts off with, what is arguably one of their longest song titles, 'How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us', and along with 'New Test Leper' and 'Electrolite' this is one of the songs that first appeals on first hearing. Just as the follow up to 'New Adventures...' does, the album is primarily based around Michael Stipe's vocals rather than the music and there can be no doubt that this album is lyrically superior to REM's previous work. This is most apparent in the tracks 'E-Bow The Letter' and 'Be Mine' - two tracks which are hard to get into but when you have they become favourites. It is also clear that REM have lost none of their humour, despite a more sombre feel in general. For example, in 'E-Bow The Letter', Stipe's quickly spoken 'I would lick your feet or is that the sickest move, I wear my own crown of sadness and sorrow, Who would've thought tomorrow would be so strange...', and this line in this song epitomises the album. As well as retaining the humour of previous work such as 'The Sidewinder...', sweetness follows with arguanly their 'cutest' lyrics of the album, in 'Be Mine' - 'I want to be your easter bunny, I want to be your christmas tree...'. If 'E-Bow The Letter' and 'Be Mine' epitomises one side of the album and 'New Test Leper' and 'HTWWWAWIGU' another, then 'Leave' has to be described as the elbum's epic cornerstone. At over seven minutes long the song manages not to be overly long and from that it is clear it has to be excellent
- and it is. And, with the album closing with the catchy and popular 'Electrolite', it cannot be doubted that REM came back to their best with this album even though the music is different and the album could be deemed a few tracks too long.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us
2 Wake Up Bomb
3 New Test Leper
5 E Bow The Letter
8 Bittersweet Me
9 Be Mine
10 Binky The Doormat
12 So Fast So Numb
13 Low Desert