The Deal: Hall-of-Fame rockers release 14th album, first CD in four years.
The Good: The band credited with putting Athens, Ga., on the map and creating a new wave of modern rock decades ago has returned to form with their latest disc. It kicks off with the up-tempo "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" before teetering back and forth between fast and slow. Michael Stipe's vocals seem to have gotten a bit raspier, but it works against the music. "Man-sized Wreath" would fit on any of the band's older albums, as would a handful of the other tracks including the acoustic "Houston." Some songs are clearly the sign of an older, more mature band that has settled down without losing their characteristic sound. "Horse to Water" tries to recapture some of energy of "End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)."
The Bad: The band rifles through 11 tracks in just under 35 minutes. I only wish their previous, poorly-received efforts were so short. This one's great and is over before you can really sink into it.
The Verdict: I couldn't tell you the names of their last few forgettable albums, but this one will stick in my mind for a while. It's classic R.E.M. from start to finish, if only a bit too short.