Reveal [CD & DVD Audio]
More than 20 years into their long, strange trip, the lil' ol' band from Athens has cast itself as the ultimate survivor. Having outlasted "college rock" -- not to mention "jangle rock" and "alternative rock" -- R.E.M. has continued to turn out inherently challenging music. Reveal is no exception. Considerably more confident sounding than Up, the band's first album without founding member Bill Berry, Reveal carries more sonic heft and a bit less of the hazy experimentalism than that last effort. At once complex and easily penetrated, songs like "Beachball" and "Summer Turns to High" recall the teenage symphonies of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds era. Like that milestone disc, Reveal keeps big guitars to a minimum. While that can be kind of a drag for fans who'd like to hear Pete Buck really cut loose -- "All the Way to Reno" conveys quite a bit of the soaring spirit that marked R.E.M.'s mid-'80s work -- the buoyant vibe of songs like the synth-driven "The Lifting" and the swooning, orchestrated "Imitation of Life" is awfully hard to resist. No, this isn't the R.E.M. of bygone days, but the band has transcended its past by always moving forward. It's refreshing to watch a band so entrenched in the public consciousness do some middle-aged growing up in public.