New Adventures In Hi-Fi can be a difficult album to digest. It doesn’t flow particularly well, it can drag and in places it can sound rather dull. There aren’t many REM fans that would claim that New Adventures In Hi-Fi is their favourite album. It’s reputation has suffered because of comparisons to those albums that went before, primarily the elegant Automatic for the People and the inelegant rocking Monster. This is rather unfair because if heard in the correct circumstances New Adventures In Hi-Fi can be a rewarding listen.
New Adventures In Hi-Fi is a wide and flat sounding recording and best experienced when the horizon is miles away. It’s a road trip album, a collection of songs that needs a changing landscape to make sense. If the album suffers from a lack of consistently great songs, it still has great moments. The piano line at the start of “How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us”, the chilling cellos through “E-Bow The Letter”, the strange alarm sounds that kick in about a minute into “Leave” and the fact that last track, “Electrolite” finishes with the line “I’m not scared, I’m outta here”. These are all great REM moments.
There are some great songs to be found on New Adventures In Hi-Fi, but you need to give some of them time to grow. “Be Mine” is not the most immediate song, but repeated listens can reveal its charms and the same can be said for another three or four songs here. New Adventures In Hi-Fi is an album that requires patience, yes it’s a road trip, but take your time, there’s no need to get a speeding ticket. One track here that is immediate is the rocking “Wake Up Bomb”, which I know is a song that many REM fans dislike, but I find it strangely listenable. It’s rumoured that “Wake Up Bomb” was written as a warning to the nostalgia-hungry Brit-pop bands that were clogging up the UK charts at the time and with it’s lyrics that mention T. Rex moves, low-assed bootcut jeans and the themes of empty nostalgia, those rumours could very well be true.
New Adventures In Hi-Fi can be a clumsy album, it has a few dud tracks and perhaps trying to record most of the album in sound-checks while on the road was probably not the smartest move in the world, but it still manages moments of greatness if you are willing to invest the time in it.