R.E.M. -- New Adventures in Hi-Fi (Warner Brothers)

R.E.M.'s latest CD, New Adventures in Hi-Fi has just hit the streets. The disc finds the band playing in a wide variety of musical styles. At times, the band sounds a bit more conventional than usual. Other times, they're more experimental than ever. Recorded in nine locations across the US during the band's last tour--soundchecks, studios, even a dressing room--R.E.M.'s latest has the impact and spontaneity of a live album with the gloss of a studio album. As lead vocalist Michael Stipe explains, "The idea was to graft together stuff that was recorded live with stuff that was done in the studio, so you can't really tell what's what." Drummer Bill Berry adds, " . . . it was very exciting. There are definitely live elements that you don't hear on any of our other efforts."

The CD's first track, "How the West Was Won and What it Got Us", features an avant-garde piano section that sounds like something from David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album. "E-Bow the Letter", the first single, features additional vocals by Patti Smith. It's amazing how well her voice meshes with Stipe's here. Up next is "Leave", one of the most eclectic songs the band has recorded. Imagine the chord progression to Dada's "Bob the Drummer", with lyrics sung to the syncopation of Prince's "When Doves Cry", all on top of the synth equivalent of a car alarm. It's an interesting combination, but the car alarm sounds get annoying quickly.

"Departure" is a rocker with 'hit single' written all over it. "Be Mine" is a touching love song with an arrangement similar to what Nirvana used on most of their "Unplugged in New York" album. "Binky the Doormat", the only throwaway cut on the CD, sounds like a Monster outtake. "Zither" is an instrumental track, recorded in a Philadelphia dressing room. "Low Desert" is another highlight on the CD. The chord progression on the song is reminiscent of Phish's "Free" (from their upcoming album). New Adventures wraps up with "Electrolyte", a laid-back, country-ish tune.

When you combine the raw energy that comes from a live recording with the sense of mystery that prevails throughout the CD, the result is easily their best effort to date. New Adventures in Hi-Fi is a fine effort from one of rock's most influential bands, R.E.M.

© 1996 Steve Marshall