"We're really interested in finding the beauty of music these days," R.E.M bassist Mike Mills recently told VH1.com. "It's not so much about hitting people over the head with anything, but taking a song and seeing how you can either find something really lovely inside it, or bring something really lovely to it. You know, heavy emphasis on melody and that sort of thing. I think that might tend to make it sound more introspective than it really is."
On their 12th studio album, Reveal, the seminal D.I.Y. trailblazers turned world-class pop stars explore a wide range of sonic approaches and instrumental textures, from psychedelic pop to lush orchestration. "These songs take place in wide open spaces," notes frontman/lyricist Michael Stipe. "There is the impression of air and breadth and flying away."
Reveal, co-produced by band and studio collaborator Pat McCarthy, is R.E.M.'s second release since the band's reconfiguration as a trio following the departure of drummer and founding member Bill Berry. Berry's absence necessitated a major creative adjustment when the group began recording as a trio on 1999's Up.
"I don't think it's a secret that Bill's leaving was a low point for all of us," admits guitarist Peter Buck. "It felt like we were on our last legs. But we all worked hard to turn that around, and I think it's paid off on this album."
"Reveal makes good on the promise that Up made," says Stipe, reflecting on the new album's combination of organic instrumentation and programmed sounds. "We were trying to take two very disparate musical directions and synthesize them together, without it sounding forced or too mechanical. . . . It's warm and layered and analog but has a distance and breath to it that's modern and complete and liberating . . . like a beautiful vacuum."
According to Mills, the songs on Up were built "brick by brick in the studio, with plenty of overdubs," while on Reveal, we played together in the studio, and I think the result has a warmer and more human dimension."
This time around, charter members Buck, Mills and Stipe enlisted the support of the three musicians who accompanied them on tour following the release of Up: Young Fresh Fellows/Minus Five leader Scott McCaughey, Posies member Ken Stringfellow and Beck/That Dog drummer Joey Waronker. "It felt like a group," says Buck of R.E.M.'s six-piece stage lineup. "And for this record, that was kinda what we were going for. We're all leaving our options open for the future, but it sure felt good this time."
According to Buck, the former road warriors won't be touring behind Reveal. "There will be some type of performance somewhere," he says. "We're talking about all kinds of interesting stuff, but I doubt very much we're gonna go someplace where someone's gonna pay a lot of money and go sit in an amphitheater and watch us perform a two-hour show. . . . We've done that. And we're kind of at the age where we're more interested in the creative aspect of it."
As for the band's longterm future, Stipe recently commented to the English magazine Q, "Do I think about how long it will go on? No. I think that's part of what's gotten us here; the fact that none of us ever really put a cap on it. The blush of youth may disappear, but what inspired and drove us to do this in the first place is still there."