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Being the Resident R.E.M. Fan, I hope you'll forgive my indulgence for a moment as I muse on the state of R.E.M., the band that produced the soundtrack of my adult life. In a nutshell, I am still recovering from the loss of Bill Berry. His departure left me in a state of melancholy, reflecting on the band that was and worrying about the band that would be. My fears were realized with the 1998 release of Up, the only R.E.M. album that brought me (and many other faithfuls) universal disappointment. Gone were the driving beats and pithy string melodies that spoke of both R.E.M.'s global "rock" appeal and their roots in a small Georgia town. Suddenly, the music was studio-produced, replacing the sounds of people-Berry, in particular-with the sounds of computers, drum machines, and mixers, reflecting a band essentially hollow without the stabilizing force of a strong rhythm section (or, as my friend calls it, the Bill-Berry-voice-of-reason). As if mourning a dead relative, I took to collecting old relics-bootlegs, one-offs, and imports-in hopes that I could keep the "old" R.E.M. alive.

And so, with much reservation, I anticipated R.E.M.'s latest album, Reveal. I wondered if, during the disastrous recording of Up, R.E.M. too had been grieving for Bill and the music he represented. I hoped that this mourning would pass like the mid-life crisis of U2, and they would find a way to recapture at least some of their magic. Well, as anyone who's lost a close friend or relative can attest, grieving is a slow arduous process with good days and bad days. If Reveal does indeed reveal anything, it is that recovery takes more than one album, but life (and music) will gradually get better. Indeed, R.E.M.'s second post-Berry release has its good points and its downturns, evidence of a band in flux. Reveal continues many trends from Up, including looping and bland pop mixing, especially in the second half of the album. The first single, Imitation of Life displays many of those qualities, and other tracks, Summer Turns to High and Beachball in particular, further reflect R.E.M.'s continuing struggle for a revised, but quality, sound. Like Up, these tracks seem to show R.E.M. beckoning back to the music of their youth, and regrettably, producing a saccharine homage to The Beach Boys' worst fluff.

But, there is some light at the end of this odd musical tunnel. The first half of Reveal hints at a new beginning for R.E.M., a sort of combination of the old and the new. Songs like The Lifting show that R.E.M. are experimenting with new techno-sounds while resurrecting some string-laced melodies and lush production a la Automatic For the People. Even more promising, several songs like I'll Take the Rain expose the underlying suffering and uncertainty that energized the best of R.E.M.'s impassioned ballads. Honestly, there's no Perfect Circle, no Country Feedback, no Find the River on this album to warrant a high-sponge rating, but Reveal at least represents a significant step away from Up and toward a trio in recovery. Although I wouldn't rank it in my Top Five, Reveal gives me hope that, given time to grieve, adjust, and reinvent, R.E.M may eventually produce new classics.

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