The drums are back! That’s the first thing I noticed about Reveal. Where Up was dark and foreboding, Reveal is sunnier but still uses lots of strange sounds to give depth to the music. Going back and listening again it struck me how strong the first 3 songs are. They have layered music, interesting characters and even though “I’ve Been High” is not exactly upbeat there is much more positive energy than on Up. After the first 3 though, the songs turn uneven and hard to get into. I always thought She just wants to be somewhere was about Natalie Merchant, I’m not sure about that anymore but it made a pretty routine song more interesting to think so. I like the concept of Saturn “going off on it’s own” in Saturn Returns and always was a sucker for the sentimentality of “I’ll take the rain”, but the remaining tracks don’t connect with me.I get the hazy, lazy summer Beach Boys vibe, but I’m not sure why REM felt they wanted to go that direction. They had just put out a very challenging record in “Up” and started off Reveal the same way and then the whole thing turns into a poppy beach party. Imitation of Life, while a catchy song, seems completely out of place here. I think I may have only heard a couple of these songs live, perhaps they have more energy and focus that way, on CD they just kind of lie there.It’s as though they tried to take some of the ideas from Up and make them into a more accessible format. But while Up was quiet and low key and a bit menacing at times, those songs stuck with me much more than the comparatively disposable songs on the 2nd half of Reveal. Overall listening again to Reveal, while enjoyable, did not change my opinion of it. I still think ½ of it is interesting and vital while the other ½ loses steam and has little of the REM passion and mystery. If the goal was to make a hazy, druggy, summery record as Stipe supposedly said, I guess they suceeded but not all of it is a riveting listen like so much of their other work.
I haven't listened in a while but much like you said the first half of the album looks to take off on the ideas that created UP. Maybe UP with a little more pep in it but then the rest of the album proceeds to turn into a bunch of tracks that you only listen to when you're on a mission to listen to the whole album at once. I wouldn't say this is their worst effort, but i think they could have definitely done more with the ideas that they created UP with.