R.E.M. - New Adventures in Hi-Fi (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews

R.E.M. - New Adventures in Hi-Fi (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews
R.E.M.’s most unstable album never quite arrives in any one sound for more than a track at a time. Born of a chaotic and stressful tour, it translated not only the energy of their shows but the transience and unreality of life on the road.

At what point is a band officially cursed? R.E.M.’s 1995 world tour, a grueling 11-month sojourn that was also their first tour in six years, certainly made them appear so. At a show in Switzerland, drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed onstage. A few months later, just as Berry had recovered enough to drum with the band again, singer Michael Stipe and bassist Mike Mills each required surgery for different ailments. Somehow not completely defeated by the experience, the band entered the studio as soon as the tour ended, excited to finish an album they’d stubbornly begun during the ill-starred trip; they’d been capturing new songs during soundchecks and performances and in the bleary hours between them, hoping the music would translate not only the energy of their shows but the transience and unreality of life on the road.

One song, “Be Mine,” was written and recorded on a tour bus in the middle of the night, and the original recording is included on the bonus disc of the 25th anniversary reissue of R.E.M’s 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. While the version on the record ended up being a full-band studio recreation, it’s the bus recording that channels the half-asleep, delayed awareness of time and reality brought on by a long drive through nowhere. You can hear it in the quietness of Stipe’s vocal, singing as if he’s trying not to wake anybody up, accompanied only by Buck’s guitar, the drone of an organ, and the sounds of the bus moving through a world turned upside-down and emptied of people.

New Adventures is the most displaced R.E.M. record, never quite arriving in any one sound for more than a track at a time, humming through a harsh and unforgiving landscape like wires between electrical towers. The material’s only unified by the half-conscious state in which much of it was made, where a song as muddy and slippery as “Undertow” can hang near the glow of “E-Bow the Letter”’s lamp-lit dusk. Most of the album and its B-sides were taken from or built on top of recordings from the ’95 tour; “Zither,” a short, frothy instrumental that could accompany a faint figure ambling down a desert road, was recorded in a bathroom at the Spectrum arena in Philadelphia, and the most furious and punkish compositions on the record, such “The Wake-Up Bomb” and “Departure,” sound like lightly cleaned-up live recordings. As quickly as R.E.M. were committing new work to tape, they were also stretching out, covering Jimmy Webb songs like “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman”—the latter of which appears on the new reissue—reaching for records that also felt pulled from the wavering air of the road. Like New Adventures, these songs embody the feeling of driving through vast stretches of nothingness, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next moment because the current one is intolerable.

This aspect of the road seeped into Stipe’s lyrics as well; all of the obsession with image and artifice in the Monster era dissipates in a desert of abstraction on New Adventures. “This fame thing, I don’t get it/I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it,” Stipe sings on “E-Bow the Letter,” the album’s first single and as lonely and alien a thing as R.E.M. ever recorded, Patti Smith’s voice welling like tears in the chorus. Stipe’s writing throughout the album is made up of disconnected phrases that feel untethered from anything larger, like the fragment of CB radio chatter that leaked onto the tape when they recorded “Be Mine.” The words proceed from a nameless and singular mood, a fragmented insomniac haze where all life’s endeavors seem to amount to a shadow slipping across an uninhabitable desert. Though it was written rapidly in the studio, the opener, “How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us,” feels haunted by the tour, a disordered sequence of dramatic events that Stipe keeps out of focus: “I made a mistake/Chalked it up to design/I cracked through time-space, godless and dry.” And when Stipe writes in character, continuing a tradition he started on Monster, the songs are full of people trapped in fugue states, ricocheting between feelings of frustration and loss that religion and its alternatives can’t entirely repair. One of his tenderest and most ambiguous sets of lyrics, “New Test Leper,” is told from the perspective of a talk show guest going through either a half-hearted religious conversion or a nervous breakdown, desperately trying to be heard in a room where the hostile and embarrassed responses of the host and the audience are so inevitable they might as well be scripted.

At the center of the record is “Leave,” the longest song in the R.E.M. catalog, where Stipe’s voice sounds like it’s fighting to be heard amid a torrent of sirens and overdriven guitar riffs, while an e-bow, a guitar effect used throughout the record, vibrates a sound out of Buck’s strings that hangs in the air with the eerie shimmer of car exhaust. Stipe’s lyrics get even more fragmented in this section of the record, like they’re being obscured by whorls of static: “Shifting the dream/Nothing could bring me further from my old friend time.” An alternate version of the song, released on the soundtrack for A Life Less Ordinary in 1997 and also included in the new reissue, hushes it down to a sleepy trip-hop pulse, a photonegative of the original with all its darks and lights reversed. It’s like trading the loneliness of a crowd for the loneliness of an empty room—they’re just variants of a single alienation.

Affixed to their roughest-edged and most unstable record, the title New Adventures in Hi-Fi always felt a little sarcastically posed. It might’ve been better served by a title from an earlier R.E.M. album, Document, as it’s undoubtedly a document of the 1995 tour and the exhausted but inspired band they were afterward. The reissue hammers this home by incorporating several early live versions of album tracks that are fascinating for being only a few missing lyrics away from their final incarnations; they display the band’s confidence in the material, in what they were managing to create out of chaos and catastrophe.

New Adventures is also a document of a band that effectively ceased to exist after its recording. On the first day of sessions for their 1998 album Up, Berry, no longer willing to endure the grind of touring after his aneurysm, decided to quit, and the remaining members had to reshape their sound around the absence of their founding drummer. They’d do so by bringing in electronic textures and Beach Boys-influenced harmonies, both in their way tributes to Berry, the post-punk skip he placed in the band’s pulse, and the chamber music-like constructions he brought to their songwriting. But for all the individual merits of the R.E.M. albums after New Adventures in Hi-Fi, for better and often for worse, they were never the same.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
R.E.M. - New Adventures in Hi-Fi (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews R.E.M. - New Adventures in Hi-Fi (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 06, 2021 Rating: 5


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