R.E.M.

New Adventures in Hi-Fi

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Recorded during and immediately following R.E.M.'s disaster-prone Monster tour, New Adventures in Hi-Fi feels like it was recorded on the road. Not only are all of Michael Stipe's lyrics on the album about moving or travel, the sound is ragged and varied, pieced together from tapes recorded at shows, soundtracks, and studios, giving it a loose, careening charm. New Adventures has the same spirit of much of R.E.M.'s IRS records, but don't take the title of New Adventures in Hi-Fi lightly -- R.E.M. tries different textures and new studio tricks. "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" opens the album with a rolling, vaguely hip-hop drum beat and slowly adds on jazzily dissonant piano. "E-Bow the Letter" starts out as an updated version of "Country Feedback," then it turns in on itself with layers of moaning guitar effects and Patti Smith's haunting backing vocals. Clocking in at seven minutes, "Leave" is the longest track R.E.M. has yet recorded and it's one of their strangest and best -- an affecting minor-key dirge with a howling, siren-like feedback loop that runs throughout the entire song. Elsewhere, R.E.M. tread standard territory: "Electrolite" is a lovely piano-based ballad, "Departure" rocks like a Document outtake, the chiming opening riff of "Bittersweet Me" sounds like it was written in 1985, "New Test Leper" is gently winding folk-rock, and "The Wake-Up Bomb" and "Undertow" rock like the Monster outtakes they are. New Adventures in Hi-Fi may run a little too long -- it clocks in at 62 minutes, by far the longest album R.E.M. has ever released -- yet in its multifaceted sprawl, they wound up with one of their best records of the '90s.

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