There is one thing you can definitely say about R.E.M. -- they never do the same thing twice.

Their new album, appropriately entitled New Adventures in Hi-Fi , lives up to that tradition, with a style different from the music they have produced in nine other albums during more than 15 years. At the same time, the album combines elements of other albums that have contained some of the best music of our era.

New Adventures has the power and controlling guitar featured in Monster , with a tone more like that of Life's Rich Pageant . Every track on the album has some merit, showing the consistency that made Green so popular. The lyrics of the album are even more cryptic and unintelligible than they have been of late, reminiscent of the songs on Reckoning .

New Adventures also brings out sides of R.E.M. never seen on their other albums. Lead vocalist Michael Stipe shows the versatility of his voice like never before, singing about half the songs in his normal style, with songs "E-Bow the Letter" and "Low Desert" sung mostly in a low chant, and ballad-like tunes "New Test Leper" and "Be Mine" sung without the edge his voice normally carries. Guitarist Peter Buck plays a prominent role in New Adventures , carrying the melody more than the vocals do in a few numbers, and bassist Mike Mills shows his presence and ability in the songs "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us," "Undertow" and "Low Desert." New Adventures is also R.E.M.'s longest album yet, and all 65-plus minutes are OK to listen to (unlike its predecessor, Monster ).

But the album is by no means R.E.M.'s best. Stipe's experimentation with vocals leaves some songs lacking a real melody, and he rarely fully utilizes his amazing vocal abilities. There aren't as many upbeat tunes as usual, and most of the songs have average or slow tempos, sacrificing energy to get more soothing and laid-back music.

On the other hand, there is a lot to admire in the album. Since the music is generally not fast-paced, it is pretty good music for relaxing.

Songs like "Leave" and "Be Mine" combine aspects that have always made R.E.M. great with good new ideas and an overall return to more indirect, poetic lyrics marks a change for the better. Incidentally, the first song to be released, "E-Bow the Letter," is mediocre at best compared to the rest of the CD.

If you have liked R.E.M.'s music up until now, you should like most of the new album. For those who have not heard R.E.M. before, I recommend you start with something else (possibly Life's Rich Pageant or Automatic for the People ), but you will probably like it if you enjoy pop rock with some intelligence. And hey, track 10 on the CD is named "Binky the Doormat" -- it's got to be good!

-- Dan Rodney

This item appeared in the Arts & Entertainment section of the October 18, 1996 issue.

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