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Record Review 

As 12th albums go, Reveal is a sur- prisingly fresh and lithe offering. Still integrating the electronic whirs (humming synths, drum machines) that have characterized their recent work, R.E.M. have re-embraced their melodic muse, something curiously absent from 1998's coldly brooding Up.

As has always been the case, R.E.M.'s finest moments tend to be their gauziest. Thus, hard-lined, track-by-track analysis feels like an exercise in tedious futility for an album as languorously beautiful as Reveal.

Instead, the recording is best absorbed as a compositional whole, clearly influenced by Brian Wilson's protean spirit, yet still distinctly the work of R.E.M. Conjuring humid July evenings both explicitly and implicitly, the music evokes images of crickets, humming bug lamps, sunburned shoulders and any number of other totemic, summery images. Meanwhile, the liquid melodies work slowly, almost casually, into your subconscious, where they proceed to take up permanent residence.

True, this is not music of great invention. Nor is it music created to change the face of rock and challenge sensibilities. Rather, Reveal is a finely crafted album content to insinuate rather than trample. It is the product of consummate work- manship, the efforts of a band that, following several tumultuous years, have rediscovered the mutual joy of making music together. And while the rock world -- spirited by self-important critics, screeching hype and a cynical undercurrent of ageism -- rarely values its meticulous craftsmen, R.E.M. seem typically unconcerned. Which, based on the evidence of Reveal, is a good thing indeed.

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