Michael Stipe referred to this album in Mojo magazine as being the most like REM that REM has ever sounded. And I'm inclined to agree.
For fans like myself this is the ultimate REM experience. For newcomers, an excellent introduction. For those sitting on the fence, it'll knock you clean to the ground on the REM side.
On previous albums, Stipe's vocals remain firmly buried in the mix, the lyrics practically indecipherable in places. This album shows Stipe's astounding vocal ability off to it's best. Heart-felt, passionate, full of emotion. The lyrics are often cryptic and abstract, yet somehow relevant ; as we've come to expect.
The instrumentation is virtually perfect, and not rooted in the 80's which means that the album hasn't aged at all, it's timeless and classic. This could be REM of the 80's, of the 90's, of the 21st century. Layers of delicate sound, blended to make the rich, soul-inspiring melodies which can lift us up or send us down effortlessly.
Stand out tracks include the beautifully simple "What if We Give it Away?", and the heavier yet controlled "Begin the Begin". The folk-esque "Swan Swan H" sticks in your mind with it's melodic guitar and lilting phrasing, and "Superman" is worth listening to for the harmonies alone. Tremendous.
The pivotal importance of this album in the career of the biggest band in the world today cannot be overplayed. This is the very essence of REM. Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe all at their creative best. Essential.