Sound — 8
On Monster, R.E.M. incorporated a grungy, distorted sound that stood in stark contrast with their previous albums. Monster was not received very well, and to make matters worse, the ensuing world tour was wrought with difficulty, including drummer Bill Berry suffering a brain hemorrhage that would eventually lead to his departure from the band. As a result of all this, New Adventures In Hi-Fi features some of the most tense, edgy material that R.E.M. has ever done. But whereas the heavily-distorted Monster felt awkward for an R.E.M. album, New Adventures In Hi-Fi shows the band settling in with their new sound, reaching a halfway point between Monster and their vintage material. Mostly recorded on their Monster tour during sound checks, Peter Buck's guitar has a very stadium-rock-oriented sound with much distortion and reverb. There is still a lot of the multi-instrumentalism that features on many R.E.M. albums. There are some great acoustic songs, much use of the rock organ and piano, autoharp on Zither, string arrangements on "E-Bow the Letter" and "Electrolite" the latter even featuring "the ultimate in musical usefullness, the guiro!" Some have criticized this album as R.E.M.'s unconscious foray into glam rock, but the songs are still good and there are enough melodic, acoustic moments to keep longtime fans satisfied. Overall, New Adventures shows R.E.M. taking a firmer grasp on a new style.
Lyrics — 9
Michael Stipe's vocal style changes a bit in this album, he sings in a somewhat higher register for most of the album. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of his lyrics are sung very well. Most of the songs are about the constant travelling the band did touring in support of Monster. On "How the West was Won and Where it Got Us," his vocals lack intensity, the "aaaahh" after the chorus sounding almost spoken rather than belted out, possibly expressing fatigue from all the complications of the tour. On "Departure," the song most directly about travel, Stipe's vocals are sung quickly as he moves from place to place: "just-arrived-Singapore-San-Sebastien-Spain-26-hour-trip-coming-in-spring-over-the-salt-flats a hailstorm brought you back to me." While "New Test Leper" sympathises with Jesus' statement "Judge not lest ye be judged", the lyrics of Undertow are largely questioning of religion: "Mother can you see those birds/they don't look to heaven/they don't need religion/they can see" and even more overt "I don't need your heaven/and I don't need religion/I am in the place where I should be/I am breathing water/I am breathing water/you know a body's got to breathe." "Be Mine" is probably the most straight-forward love-song the band has done, and it's done very well. The lyrics are filled with allusions, and although the lines "I wanna be your easter bunny/I wanna be your christmas tree" come off as cheesy, they are resolved by the lines "and if you make me your religion/I'll give you all the room you need." Overall, they lyrics are somewhat of a departure from the normally cryptic lyrics Stipe is known for, but are still great and well-written.
Overall Impression — 9
01. How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us - a minimalist, almost jazzy song with sparse piano and guitar lines. Great harmony from Mike Mills and Bill Berry in the chorus. Great song 02. Wake-up Bomb - as glam as it gets for R.E.M., with a lot of distortion and rock organ. Great rhythm by Bill. Michael's vocals seem to parody a glam-image more than endorse it: "My head's on fire, and high esteem/get drunk and sing along to Queen/practice my T-Rex moves and make the scene/I'd rather be anywhere/doing anything." Good song. 03. New Test Leper - great acoustic guitar song, pretty melody. Features some jangly electric guitar in the chorus and a nice little solo from Peter. Good song. 04. Undertow - features a lot of feedback and good bass. Great riffs from Peter in the verse and chorus. Features a melodic guitar outro layered under a lot of distortion. Good song. 05. E-bow The Letter - one of the best songs on the album, features great acoustic guitar, great bass from Mike, and, of course, Peter's E-bow. A very gloomy song with some good string arrangements and a great vocal performance by Patti Smith. 06. Leave - the longest, and probably the most intense, song that R.E.M. has ever done. Begins with a bleak acoustic intro, the goes into the song, driven by an abrasive siren-like effect and Bill's drumming. More E-bow from Peter. Michael's vocals are very dark: "I lost myself in sorrow/I lost myself in pain/I lost myself in gravity/memory, leave, leave." Awesome song. 07. Departure - an upbeat song in contrast with "Leave." Stipe sings of travel, while Peter plays a good riff. More great harmony sung by Mike. Good song. 08. Bittersweet Me - great song, very melodic, with both acoustic in the verse and distorted electric in the chorus. Again, great harmony from Mike in the final pre-chorus. Great song. 09. Be Mine - a sweet love song with pretty guitar lines. Michael's vocals are very quiet, his lyrics are poetic. Probably my favorite song on the album. 10. Binky The Doormat - great verse riff from Peter and a great chorus. Great backup vocals from Mike in the chorus. Great singing by Michael. Pretty good song. 11. Zither - an melodic instrumental featuring an autoharp and some pretty jangly lines from Peter. Great little song. 12. So Fast, So Numb - another very distorted song with some good singing and great piano in the chorus. A decently good song. 13. Low Desert - a pretty mellow song with a great chorus riff, more rock organ, and a great warbly solo by Peter. Great bass by Mike. Good song. 14. Electrolite - another contender for best song on the album. Features a pretty piano melody, acoustic guitar, violin solo, and an overall lack of distortion. Michael's singing is great. Fitting end to the album. Although a departure from the R.E.M. of the past, this is still a great album that shows that R.E.M. can play hard-rock better than many other hard-rock bands out there. If any band other than R.E.M. had released this album, it would have been much better received. If it were lost/stolen I would definitely buy it again.