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4.6 out of 5 stars
New Adventures
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2002
After the globe-conquering high of Automatic For The People, REM looked in danger of burning out, with the not-quite-properly-realised Monster and the stress of the tour which followed. But out of that tour's ashes rose this astonishing collection. It became perhaps inevitably their darkest album yet, but, crucially, that never makes it hard to listen to.
It's pretty long at 66 minutes, but it hardly ever drains the listener. It's a collection of studio takes, live performances and soundchecks, and a lot of the energy filters through onto the CD.
The album opens in characteristically uncharacteristic fashion, with the distorted beats and edgy piano line of How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us, a stark and twisted country-rock piece with a unnervingly off-kilter piano solo in the middle. The Wake-Up Bomb could hardly be more different, a blazing glam-rock storm which carries the listener along on a tide of acidic sentiment. "I had to write the great American novel," sneers Michael Stipe sarcastically, "I had a neutron bomb." The interesting thing about New Adventures is that, whereas on Monster they tried desperately to rock out and always sounded a bit contrived, here they do it with great natural ease.
New Test Leper has a wonderfully pretty, lilting melody. It tells of a AIDS sufferer's awful experience on a TV chat show, and Stipe does it brilliantly, making his character totally sympathetic without ever being patronising. The lyrics are actually essential reading. "When I tried to tell my story, they cut me off to take a break. I sat silent five commercials - I had nothing left to say."
Undertow is one of the album's most intriguing tracks. Based around just two chords, it feels oppressive and claustrophobic, but in a positive way. It intrigues most because it sounds not unlike Nirvana. The verses in particular sound a lot like the verses on the 'new' song, You Know You're Right, and Stipe's vocals are every bit as dark as Kurt Cobain's tended to be; "I am breathing water, I am breathing water; you know a body's got to breathe."
After Undertow comes the single E-Bow The Letter. It is a pleasant surprise that in our bloated, airbrushed charts this became as big a hit as it did, because it's DARK. Really dark, and not a little scary. Stipe's delivery is pitch-perfect, and contrasts perfectly with Patti Smith's vampiric promise, "I'll take you over." In my opinion it's REM's best single ever, and one of the best singles of the 90s.
Leave, which follows, opens with a haunting, delicate acoustic guitar riff for a minute, before an unhinged car alarm kicks in. It doesn't go away for six minutes. It could have been immensely irritating, but in fact it's a stroke of sonic genius. Beneath that racket, the song is up to its eyes in its own undiluted misery, "I lost myself in sorrow, I lost myself in pain, I lost myself in clarity," before finally drowning in a sea of feedback.
Departure rocks with a visceral, burning energy that makes you wonder how amazing it must sound live, with Michael Stipe screaming, "GO, GO, GO, YEAH!!" halfway through. The disillusion and pain return, however, with Bittersweet Me. Its chord changes are refreshingly intelligent, while Stipe admits, "I'm tired and naked, I don't know what I'm hungry for, I don't know what I want anymore."
What follows defies all expectations. After all that misery, pain and darkness, REM do a 180-degree turn and produce quite possibly one of the sweetest, most affecting love songs ever. Its verses display rich, lush imagery ("I'll by the sky above the Ganges, I'll be the vast and stormy sea, I'll be the lights that guide you inwards"), while its chorus simply proclaims, "You and me." The extraordinary sweeping guitar phrases at the end just round off a perfect song.
Binky The Doormat is most notable for the stunning interaction between Stipe and Mike Mills in the chorus. "Have you lost your place?" asks Stipe, to which Mills counters, "No way, no way." As demonstrated time and time again on this album, particularly on Departure and Undertow, Mills' vocals are the perfect complement for Stipe's, especially when used contrapuntally.
Zither is a fragile two-minute instrumental, one of only two inessential tracks on the album, along with Low Desert, which strives a little too hard to be bluesy and 'widescreen' and sacrifices the memorable tunes of the other songs. But sandwiched between the two is an absolute gem, So Fast So Numb, a full-on, turbocharged interpretation of a drug-fuelled affair. It opens with a drum line reminiscent of that which opened Orange Crush, and the tension and pace never lets up. "Listen," cries Stipe to his troubled subject. "This is now, this is here, this is me, this is what I wanted you to see." It carries an urgency rarely heard before in an REM song.
The closer, Electrolite, is perfect. REM know how to close out an album, as Find The River on Automatic demonstrated, and this is every bit as good. A beautiful, twilit piano ballad, it rejects the pain of the rest of the album and offers instead optimism and hope. "Twentieth century, go to sleep," purrs Stipe. "I'm not scared." It's a happy ending to a long, tumultous journey. Will REM ever produce an album as intense, beautiful or satisfying as this again? If not - well, this is some peak.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2004
This album is exceptional, in my mind. I was unaware of the apparent 'critical hype' (or rather, negative reviews) at the time this album was released, and therefore took it on face-value. I'm glad I did, as this album has excited me for years. I can't think of a bad track on here at all. The songs as individual pieces each have their own sound, yet they move the album coherently from the first track to the last.
There is real feeling and emotion on this album, and even years later, I'm stunned by the originality of it. After all, can you think of anything else that sounds even remotely like 'E-bow The Letter'? There is passion on this album.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
OK. They are a hugely consistent band with barely a note out of place in all their 20 years. So how can you pick a best album? Well, if you keep going back to it, if you keep changing your favourite song (Electrolite? New Test Leper? Be Mine? So Fast So Young? Leave? Ebow The Letter?), if you impress upon all your friends that they MUST own it... then you have a special album on your hands. Initially, after Green. Out of Time, Automatic and Monster I thought this was slightly disappointing, and yet with each year that passes it has remained (as does The Bends with Radiohead) an extremely attractive option to listen to, and kind of sets a musical benchmark for other bands to try and match. Almost impossible, of course - it's perfect.
Joseph Heller was often asked about Catch 22 "Are you disappointed that you have never matched it?" To which he replied "No-one else has either."
REM can rest on this one...UP and Reveal were both fine albums, but this is unmatched anywhere.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2003
The huge world tour after the release of monster meant that recording was split between experimentation at soundchecks and downtime in the studio. This division is definetely reflected in the lack of cohesiveness of this record, which certainly makes for interesting listening.
The poor critical reception of monster meant that REM were looking to experiment a bit more rather than churn out a traditional live album. However the fuzzed-up guitar of 'the wake up bomb' and 'undertow'suggest that peter buck still hadn't quite got the rock and roll bug out of him. All of this though adds up to making listening to this album so enjoyable. There had never been so much variation in REM's songwriting, with this long set giving them the space to reference a number of genres, and make them all their own.
Although not well received at the time with hindsight it is easily their most comprehensive set, from the seventies glam of the wake up bomb and 'Binky the doormat', to the gentle folk of new test leper, hiding a bitter social commentary.
Stipe's voice adds huge depth with his resonant baritone sweeping into banshee-like screams in How the West was won and where it got us whilst swelling with mellow anguish in the more traditionally structured songs.
This record stands out because it ebbs rather than flows, it catches you off guard in 'leave' with the lush spanish guitar and pump-organ spontaneously descending into a screeching siren of a synthesiser. They try to evoke so many atmospheres, and achieve this effortlessly throughout the record, from the swampy fell of low desert, the touring mayhem of departure to the folky americana of electrolite.
In REM's history this cannot be ignored, and bandwagoned as just another one of those post-Automatic... albums, it deserves your full attention, and works very hard for it. Oh, I haven't even mentioned the fact that it also contains the best REM song in their carreer. 'E Bow the letter'is indescribable, which I'm sure is how Michael Stipe intended it to be. But as a song it is poignant, moving, yet suggests the reckless abandon of youth and the realisation of growing older.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2001
I simply fail to see why so many people and in particular the music press have seen it necessary to be critical of this album. To my mind it easily the best REM album after AFTP and Reveal and it is not far behind those. The songs are just ridiculously good.
The Wake-Up Bomb and Departure are twice as combustible as anyhting on the rather flat Monster and the same crunching guitars can be found on the chorus of the superb single Bittersweet Me. Then there is the sublime So Fast, So Numb which is a close relative of Monster's Whats The Frequeny Keneneth.
There are also a number of classic 'acoustic' songs such as Electrolite and Be Mine, as well as the very moving New Test Leper which depicts the suffering of a lady on a US talk show. And then of course there is the superb piano solo on the haunting How The West Was Won An Where It Got Us.
So go and buy this now as a truly exceptional album and surely one in the top 20 of all time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2006
It took two or three listens, and then it got me.

This is possibly the most "grown-up" and perhaps even agressive REM album.

Some of the early stuff is full of youthful vitality, and over the years it is obvious that style and content has developed, and a little mature mellowness has smoothed some of those rougher edges.

However, whilst this has it's softer moments and ends with the exquisitely beautiful "Electrolite", when it rocks, it rock in ya face!

"Leave" is perhaps the best REM track of all time.

"New Adventures..." is perhaps their best album.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2001
This album probably rocks better than any other album REM have produced. Leave, The Wake-up Bomb and So Fast So Numb are all incredible songs that are unmistakably REM. What makes this album even better is that it also has some of the best slow songs the band have done as well. How the West Was Won, E-Bow the Letter and Electrolite are all simply sublime. The fact that there are 14 tracks on this album, and none are below very good, sums up REM, they are pure quality and this is one of their highlights, and shows a big return to form after the slightly disappointing Monster. It would probably rank as the third best behind Automatic for the People and the latest album Up, but is at a standard that few bands around can compete with.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2004
Many critics felt REM had lost the plot when they released 'Monster' in 1994. After the low-key acoustic perfection of 'Automatic for the People', they found its full-on, buzz-saw rock tracks a regression to garage grunge. Actually, it wasn't, and under the surface 'Monster' was every bit as melancholy as 'Automatic' - just a little bit angrier with it.
'New Adventures in Hi-fi', from 1996, continued in the rocky vein established by 'Monster'. Though not all of its fourteen tracks amount to much, the more powerful ones more than compensate - to make this, in my opinion, one of the classic rock records of the 1990s. Like all the best albums, its quality is not down just to its material, but also to the unique atmosphere of the whole listening experience. 'New Adventures' offers a strange tonal mixture of exhilaration and sadness: the sound, perhaps, of a still-powerful rock band beginning to enter middle age and catching the whiff of mortality.
Stand-out tracks for me are 'Leave', with its weird, siren-like guitar wail looped all the way through; 'So Fast, So Numb', which rocks in a most satisfactory manner; and 'Electrolite', yet another tuneful, wistful REM album-closer. All in all, a thoroughly underrated disc.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 4 October 2002
Another case of don't believe the bad reviews. The band experiment with a couple of electronic rhythms and there is a huge backlash, very predictable.
This is a very good, and most of all, consistent album. Some songs are very rock like sounding like they could have easily been on 'Monster' whereas others sound like they were meant to be on 'Up' and others sound like classic REM. It sounds great to me.
The Patti Smith led 'E-Bow the letter' is always a great listen and 'Electrolite' is classic REM and a brilliant song to sing with at their concerts. There's only about one or two average tracks on here, the rest are great REM songs.
Again, written at a time of turmoil for the group when Bill Berry left, so fans were feeling slightly uneasy and this may have led to undue criticism of this fine album.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2011
If there were more stars available, this album would deserve 'em. It's not worth the $80 million REM got after its release, any more than Zidane's spectacular Champions' League final winning goal was worth the money Madrid paid for him, but I'm devoutly grateful to have been alive to witness that wonder-goal and to experience the 65 mintues of this travel-stained meditation on the soul of America in the dying embers of the twentieth century.

I'll tell you what it's not. Its not hit factory material. There's not a 'Stand', 'Shiny Happy People' or 'Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite' song anywhere to be seen. That tilt to commercial airplay that REM felt obliged to offer to entice radio or MTV has instead given way to white hot songwriting and music that flows at times as lazily as a mountain brook or unleashes all its kinetic energy and roars with the infinite hunger of a storm wrecking sea. REM used to have imaginary elemental file categories for their albums back in their minor-label days, like file under water for 'Reckoning' or fire for 'Document'. I'd file 'New Adventures' under air for its over riding sense of spatial distance between its protagonists' relationships and its feeling of perpetual motion into some unknown ether.

Stipe's gravel-bar voice has never sounded better than when expressing the claustrophobic desires of a suitor in 'Be Mine', the tragic fleeting regret on 'Low Desert', the honey-suckle come-on of 'Binky the Dormat' or the bewildered agnosticism of the interviewee in 'New Test Leper'. During the magnificent 'Leave' the music lifts you into an emotional oblivion in the phantom aeroplanes Stipe summons and keeps you in raptured suspension through the album's second half until the folky ballad 'Electrolite' brings you back down gently at the album's close.

It's an assured suite that never puts a foot wrong. Nevermind the band's claim for thematic oneness on 'Collapse into Now'. 'New Adventures' is REM's greatest concept album.
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