R.E.M. Recaptures Sound to the Letter

U2 isn't the only great '80s rock band returning to its signature sound after a lengthy period of sonic experimentation.

R.E.M.'s musical shift in recent years wasn't as dramatic as U2's break from the friendly, anthem-oriented terrain of "The Joshua Tree" to stir things up a bit with "Achtung Baby!" and subsequent collections.

Still, the Georgia outfit moved boldly into new territory, leaving the bright, open-arms embrace of the hit-heavy "Automatic for the People" for the brooding obsession and soul-searching of "Monster," "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" and "Up." In the process, the band downplayed some of its jangling guitar riffs in favor of exotic electronic touches--and saw sales steadily decline.

Despite the setbacks in the marketplace, the post-"Automatic" albums contained much excellent work, including some songs as challenging and moving as anything R.E.M. has done.

"Reveal" (due in stores Tuesday) doesn't recapture the old magic as deftly as U2 does in "All That You Can't Leave Behind," but the tone is again comforting and familiar. In the opener, "The Lifting," Michael Stipe sings, "Good morning ....The weather's fine, the sky is blue."

Elsewhere, the band sometimes hints at the melodic swing and sway of such hits as "Losing My Religion" and "Man on the Moon," and fully connects with it on the guitar-driven "Imitation of Life."

The most fun, however, is when Brian Wilson's spirit seems to fill the studio on such endearing, upbeat numbers as "Beat a Drum" and, especially, the wistful "Summer Turns to High," with its gorgeous harmonies. On these tracks, Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills do more than simply a good job of being R.E.M. *

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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