REM, New Adventures in Hi-Fi

I consider this to be REM's "insta-album:" readymade, popped out fully-formed in soundchecks between tour dates, sort of the Marcel Duchamp of albums minus the urinals, moustachioed Mona Lisas and artistic pretense. This yields a curious dichotomy: the best tracks, the most inventive and interesting tracks, are the studio tracks, like "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" (which also is my personal nomination for Best Titular Swipe at White America), "New Test Leper" (gospel music that literally rejects the gospel, but agrees with some of what Jesus said), and the soulful "Be Mine." But the rocking tracks, the gritty grindouts, then stand in stark contrast with their flat and mushy production and their studiously recycled chords and beat. Heck, "Wake Up Bomb" and "Bittersweet Me" could practically be two parts of the same song. In the word of instant art, Marcel Duchamp's idea of spontaneity was being outrageous and offensive, but after years of original musical concepts REM's apparently is just being loud. Like every old hand band put up on a stage and told to play on the spot, they play what they know. And that's not really all that adventurous. (Content: some F-bombs.)