October 07, 1985 12:00 PM


Making drab, dreary, plodding music hasn’t prevented this Athens, Ga. band from becoming darlings of the folk-rock revival. R.E.M. does have a readily identifiable sound, easily half the game in pop music. But the quartet’s style is basically the sum of its limitations. They are: 1) the droning guitar chords, momentarily intoxicating but at heart dutiful and straitjacketed; 2) the sleepwalking melodies, actually three or four middle-register notes shifting their weight from one foot to the other like people waiting for a bus; 3) Michael Stipe’s morose, mumbled vocals. The band dishes up these vices with such resolute insistence that it’s no wonder people have mistaken them for virtues. R.E.M. is nothing if not high purposed and sincere. But glum is not the same as serious, and pallid is not the same as sensitive. In this third album R.E.M. does show signs of life on a few cuts, such as Driver 8 and Can’t Get There From Here. But this band only makes you long for a less mannered kind of newness or for the more stirring old stuff it draws from—like the Byrds, the Doors and even (in Can’t Get There From Here) The Who. Rock is supposed to release its audience momentarily from the existential routine; something’s wrong if it only puts you on a more laborious treadmill. (IRS)

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