Ten years after the commercial zenith of Monster and seven years after the departure of linchpin Bill Berry, R.E.M. have never seemed as directionless as they do on their 13th album, Around the Sun. To a certain extent, R.E.M. have seemed unsure ever since Monster -- sporadically brilliant as it is, New Adventures in Hi-Fi was an effort to clear the decks and redefine the band in the wake of its breakthrough to superstar status.
Talk about false dawns. The warm reviews and huge sales that greeted last year's greatest hits album suggested that REM were due a triumphant comeback, as did the strong singles Bad Day and Animal and their bold return to the political fray. But it's impossible to square those good omens with Around the Sun's subdued AOR. The CD cover, portraying a blurry, indistinct Stipe, Buck and Mills, turns out to be an all-too-accurate reflection of the music.