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"There is a calm I haven't come to yet
I spend half my life figuring what comes next."
R.E.M. band members guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills are both self-proclaimed huge fans of The Beach Boys, having praised critically-acclaimed works such as Pet Sounds, Sunflower, and -- not least -- the Southern California group's somewhat eccentric late-career album The Beach Boys Love You (1977). Reveal is the closest R.E.M. have ever come to recording a Beach Boys-esque album (though 1998's experimental Up did feature two Brian Wilson-inspired songs: At My Most Beautiful and Parakeet). It's not that Reveal is a downright homage to The Beach Boys sound by any means -- even if a few songs come close (the charming ballads Beat A Drum, Summer Turns To High, Beachball) -- it's rather that the entire album is illuminated by a similarly gorgeous and serene sunlight that evokes: a warm, summery feel, and images of sparkling sunbeams on water surfaces; old, hazy photos with sunrays reflecting off camera lenses; and barbeques and bonfires on the beach.
The characters inhabiting the narratives on Reveal all seem to have one thing in common: they are on a personal quest of some sort in the pursuit of happiness, dreams, love, and spiritual enlightenment -- a place in the sun. As we all know, finding peace of mind, as well as keeping an open mind to the endless possibilities of the unknown, is easier said than done, a fact which is addressed in the opening number The Lifting -- an airy, weightless track floating on a fresh breeze of surging synthesizers, bouncy drums, piano, and bass: "Now close your eyes / And start to breathe / Allow the noise to recede / Allow yourself to drift and fly away / But you just stay". Even if you experience happiness and feel as if you're on top of the world, it may very well be a momentary, fleeting state of mind. "I've been high / I've climbed so high / But life sometimes / It washes over me", sings Michael Stipe in an endearingly fragile tone of voice on the haunting, touchingly reflective ballad I've Been High, to the sound of a simplistic drum machine beat and skittish, jittery synth loops.
And the search for self-realization continues with All The Way To Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star). Peter Buck's dust-drenched guitar motif accompanies the tale of a sweet, naive, innocent small-town girl with big dreams, as she travels to Reno, her hopefulness and positive attitude towards the future conveyed by a melodic, hummable, toe-tapping tune and subtle, shimmering, crystal-clear synth bleeps: "Humming / All the way to Reno / You've dusted the non-believers / And challenged the laws of chance". How could you possibly not wish for her to succeed?
"All" anyone ever wants is to "just" be happy, but for many the harsh reality is that it seems to be too much to ask for; that less will have to do. Which is why we individually, on our own, will have to find a way to be at peace with who we are, where we are, and what we have, just like the main character in She Just Wants To Be, who strives to live in the here and now, knowing that what matters is the journey, not the destination; she doesn't know where she's going, but she'll know, when she gets there: "But she knows / Now is greater than the whole of the past…/ She just wants to be somewhere / She just wants to be". Awash with crisp acoustic guitar and intense, scorching electric guitar riffs, it’s a reflective song that celebrates life in all its shades, good or bad, happy or sad, much in the same vein as two of the album’s other like-minded tracks, the equally lushly-arranged compositions Disappear and I'll Take The Rain.
The catchy, captivating Imitation Of Life -- the first single released from Reveal -- was R.E.M's most infectious, radio-friendly, sing-along single since either Losing My Religion (from Out Of Time) or Man On The Moon (off Automatic For The People). Not only was the song a piece of perfect Pop music, it also, quite unusually, incorporated a non-commercial/non-contemporary creative touch such as -- of all things -- an organ-sounding keyboard passage. Reveal is a very underrated and overlooked R.E.M. album, which, sadly, deserves much more respect than it has received. Hopefully, in retrospect, it will eventually be regarded for what it is: a highly accomplished and beautifully crafted late-career triumph.