September 24, 2007
Reveal begins with a set of three very different types of ballads done up in spacey, neon-lit drag. It’s simultaneously kitschy and gorgeous, and it brings to mind an older generation’s notion of future modernity. There’s a strange, self-reflexive tension buried in the subtext — R.E.M. were clearly making an effort to modernize their sound, but there’s some kind of admission that they can only go so far, and so they embraced a quaint, dated concept of “futuristic” music. If only they’d kept going! As it stands, the record takes a turn on “She Just Wants To Be,” and though there’s some quality songs later in the sequence, the tone of the album becomes scattered and incoherent.
“The Lifting” starts off with a gentle quasi-psychedelic sweep, but kicks into one of the few truly grand productions of the band’s late period. The song bears some resemblance to “The Great Beyond,” but it follows an eccentric orbit that keeps its chorus from having the same arena-sing-along effect.
The lyrics are relatively straightforward, but it’s easy to lose track of Michael Stipe’s relationship to the main character — Is he a friend of the protagonist? An omniscient narrator? I noticed that the voice of the seminar leader is placed in quotations on the official lyrics sheet, but I rather like the idea of the entire song being sung from that person’s perspective, mainly because even the best advice and observations in the piece suddenly become unreliable and suspicious. Either way, a crucial aspect of the song is that the character being discussed is piecing together the narrative of his life based on other people’s impressions of its events. They try to help and guide the protagonist, but it becomes clear that despite good intentions, they are all making an effort to reinvent this person in their image.