Relaxed Elderly Musicians. In a pop-music world full of one-hit-wonder, teenybopper, boy-n-girl bands, R.E.M.'s 21-year-old reign as a pillar of college rock is unusual. Where do these aging rockers belong in a society full of momentary, background music? As it was in the beginning, R.E.M. will remain artful, intelligent rockers whose audience mostly comprises college kids, aging college kids and wish-I-could-stay-in-college-forever kids, like myself.
These geezers' newest release, Reveal, is not much different from what you have come to expect from R.E.M. The album is full of thoughtful, poetic, obscure-seeming lyrics; melodic layers of dramatic music; and a confident sense of mystery. However, Reveal is a softer, more introspective, personal album than R.E.M. has offered in a long time.
Bill Berry, founding member and drummer, left the band after a brain aneurysm before 1999's Up, and the band admitted that his leaving was a low point for everyone. Actually, the band briefly called it splits after Up's release, but realizing that making music and making music with each other was who they were, R.E.M. began their evolution to a trio -- the solid, mature trio that has released this rainy day, avoiding-studying-for-finals, contemplating-your-existence album.
Reveal has given the band, and the listener, a chance to discover and reveal some important life-lessons. In "She Just Wants to Be," Michael Stipe sings, "Remind us of what, when, why or who/ that how's up to us, me and you./ And now is greater than the whole of the past."
We are always what we become.
Again, in "Disappear," Stipe sings, "The only thing worth looking for/ is what you find inside./ But that had not yet appeared." Self-discovery, self-revelation, then in "Beat a Drum," self-assurance. "This is all I want, it's all I need/ this is all I am, it's everything/ this is all I want, it's all I need."
This is all I need, too: a new R.E.M. album, insurance that the band has not disbanded, and the promise of rainy summer afternoons to come, where Reveal will be the perfect soundtrack.
Trouble in Shangri-la
In 1980 when Stevie Nicks released her first solo effort, Bella Donna, the album established her as a poetic songwriter and mega-entertainer and, ultimately, launched her on the path toward Diva status. But that path took some strange turns along the way, leaving her fans stranded in the middle of nowhere. With Trouble in Shangri-la, her latest CD and first release since 1994, the Stevie Nicks we know and love has returned.
Trouble in Shangri-la is an energetic and powerful CD, wrought with vibrant imagery created through elegant and personal lyrics. True to Nicks' writing style, the tracks on this CD are quite descriptive and often read like a page from her journal. Backed by strong, rhythm-driven acoustic music, most of the tracks work.
The second track on the CD, an acoustic-based tune called "Candlebright" is classic Nicks, showcasing her rich gritty voice and penchant for powerful ballads. Nicks also stays true to her more ethereal side, with a tune called "Sorcerer," in which she soars to a rich falsetto during the song's mystical verses.
By inviting an array of guest musicians to join her on this CD, however, Nicks also mixes things up a bit. Collaborations with Sheryl Crow, Natalie Maines, Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan and longtime friend Lindsey Buckingham resulted in some of the more standout tracks of the CD.
For example, "Bombay Sapphire" employs the seductive and soulful voice of Macy Gray. Backed by keyboards and Caribbean rhythms, their voices blend wonderfully. Dixie Chick Natalie Maines is also a complementary presence to Nicks, adding some country spice and fiddle to the rocker, "Too Far From Texas." And Sheryl Crow's influence is ever-present, as she contributes to five of the 13 tracks. Their mutual respect for each other is apparent in their collaborations, making the tracks lyrically and musically strong.
With Trouble in Shangri-la, and a little help from her friends, Stevie Nicks had returned to her roots.
-- Suzanne Becker
No More Shall We Part
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Nick Cave has never taken an orthodox approach to his music. On his latest CD, No More Shall We Part, that trend continues. Recorded with his band, The Bad Seeds (Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler, Martyn Casey, Conway Savage, Jim Sclavunos and Warren Ellis), No More Shall We Part is a collection of 12 unadulterated (mostly) love songs.
With his usual wit, his passionate voice and a good deal of irreverence, Cave's songs on this CD range, lyrically, from savage to sentimental, painting a world in which love strains to survive. And though the images often oscillate between madness and beauty, they do not lack Cave's wicked sense of humor or talent for social commentary through understatement.
On a track called "God Is In the House," Cave gently croons, "We've lit our town so there is no/Place for crime to hide/Our little church is painted white/And in the safety of the night/We all got quiet as a mouse/For the word is out/God is in the house."
The beautiful string arrangements by Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis complement the intensity of the lyrics and accompanying underlying piano melodies, as do the lush voices of Anna and Kate McGarrigle. Both elements add even more dimension to the personality of Cave's music.
Nick Cave is an artist who has been on the edge of musical innovation for almost 20 years. No More Shall We Pass, his 11th studio album, keeps him poised on that musical edge, not going too far over or stepping too far back.
-- Suzanne Becker