E-Bow the Letter
How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us
The Edge: Top 10 Albums of 1996 (number: 8)
en: New Adventures in Hi-Fi [info]
One of REM's strengths is their urge to push themselves creatively. Having ascended to rock's global elite in the early '90s they could have relaxed into the usual superstar routine of touring followed by recording. Instead after a long break, when they did eventually tour the world again they decided to write and record an album while on the road.
New Adventures is the result. It's much better than the preceding Monster. Monster marked the return of Peter Buck's appetite for loud electric guitars after the acoustic period of Out of Time and Automatic For The People, but it tried too hard and didn't have enough good songs.
New Adventures rocks out too, but is much more relaxed and successful. Recording the songs live and at sound checks is a shrewd move as this rough and ready approach makes the material feel fresh and alive. The Wake Up Bomb rocks like a mother while Undertow swaggers along on overdrive and thrilling waves of feedback. On Departure, an enjoyable three chord thrash, and Binky The Doormat the band are having fun and it's thoroughly infectious.
New Adventures also features half a dozen songs recorded in the studio. These show range, depth and quality. How The West Was Won sounds like Pere Ubu (always a compliment in my book), New Test Leper is genuinely touching. E-Bow The Letter is the stand out track, a classic: experimental yet gorgeous.
In fact, the only thing wrong with New Adventures is that it's just a bit too long, with a couple of below-par tracks (in particular the turgid Leave). This was to become a significant problem in the next phase of the band's career as they lost focus when Bill Berry left. But remove the filler and this is a very good album, perhaps even the last great REM album.