Picks and Pans Review: New Adventures in Hi-Fi
Here is a "studio" album that resonates with the shotgun spirit of a restless band on the run: The groundwork for four tracks was laid down in concert during the foursome's 1995 world tour. Several were recorded during sound checks. One instrumental ("Zither") was cranked out in a Philadelphia dressing room. And the complete package was put together in a Seattle recording studio.
Hi-Fi revisits the rowdy punk ethic of the band's last album, 1994's Monster. But while that disc's roughed-up sound was given an ultrasmooth finish, the band presents most of these 14 tunes in all their ragged glory. "Leave" and "Departure" both erupt with the manic energy you'd expect of a band that has been cooped up in too many hotel rooms, while the brooding "E-Bow the Letter," which features a zombie-like vocal cameo from Patti Smith, seems to have been written on the spot. Thanks in part to the meandering quality of singer-songwriter Michael Stipe's delivery and his now-legendary elliptical lyricism, it starts to make sense only after multiple listens.
R.E.M. even applies its anything-goes philosophy to song sequence. The creepy, crawling pace of the album's opening cut, "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us," hardly hints at the explosive "Wake-Up Bomb" that comes next, while the aforementioned "E-Bow" is sandwiched between a frenzy of guitar feedback and a chain-saw rocker. That may make New Adventures in Hi-Fi an occasionally jarring adventure, but by letting their temperaments run wild, the guys capture the unfettered spontaneity that sometimes makes their gigs the ultimate live experience. (Warner Bros.)
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