By People Staff
May 21, 2001 12:00 PM

R.E.M. (Warner Bros.)

Album of the week

R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck made news recently when he was arrested in an incident of alleged air rage on an international flight. Little of that anger shows up on the Athens, Ga., trio’s marvelously mellow new album. A lush tour de force, Reveal transports the band into fresh territory, where guitars take a backseat to retro, Burt Bacharach-style string parts and candy-coated harmonies. Are these lollipop arrangements for real? On “Imitation of Life,” singer and lyricist Michael Stipe seems to be reaching for something deeper when he sings, “That’s sugarcane that tasted good/That’s cinnamon/That’s Hollywood.” Rock stars who complain about showbiz artifice are nothing new, but Stipe does it with notable understatement and style.

This pretty yet disturbing album is the musical equivalent of the film American Beauty. Harking back to songs like Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” R.E.M. obsesses about pop culture’s disposability while luxuriating in its irresistible glow. When the approach clicks, it’s a neat trick. “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star),” with its bubbly, movie-music version of country-western swing, is a kitsch classic with character.

Bottom Line: Athens’s finest fly again