R.E.M. will enter the Bill Berry-less era of their storied recording career fueled by an album with a decidedly positive title and, by all accounts, a distinctly modern twist.
Up, the band's 11th album and the first to not feature former drummer Berry -- who quit the band last fall -- will be released Oct. 27 and is slated to feature a number of ambient and subdued tracks, some of which the group debuted in June at this year's Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C., according to R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs.
"I don't know exactly how many or which of those will be on the album," Downs said. "I suspect most of them, but they haven't finished it yet." Downs said the album would likely be wrapped within the next two weeks.
Among the songs expected for inclusion are "Airplane Man," "Suspicion," "Sad Professor" and "Parakeet," a quartet of introspective, minimalist songs (as performed at the benefit for Tibet). Other new compositions expected to make it onto the album are "Daysleeper," "At My Most Beautiful" and "Hope."
Downs said there were likely a "million reasons" for the album's upbeat title, not the least of which was that the band liked the word. In addition to experimenting with percussive instruments and offbeat sounds in the studio, Downs confirmed that members of the Atlanta Symphony were brought in to add strings to a few tracks.
In an interview at the Tibet show, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe offered his take on the new album and the motivation behind some of the music.
"It's a very different kind of rock 'n' roll," Stipe said backstage at the TFC in June. "And, hopefully, we're pushing the boundaries of what is thought of as rock 'n' roll just a little bit."
Last week, during a SonicNet chat (link to chat), R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck said the band would likely finish soon what he expected to be a 14-track album. "The new record is kinda out there," Buck said, "but I don't know if it's Barrett's fault," he joked, referring to Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, who has been recording and performing with R.E.M., as well as with his and Buck's side project, Tuatara.
The pioneering group from Athens, Ga., has been recording the new material with help from Martin and Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, as well as, more recently, Beck drummer Joey Waronker. After tracking more than a dozen songs in San Francisco earlier this year, the group has been holed up on and off for the past few months in a Georgia studio, finishing the effort.
In March of this year, midway through the group's stay in San Francisco and prior to the recording of Stipe's finished vocals, Buck said so much experimentation was going on in the studio that "you can't really tell it's us on most of the songs."
Since forming in 1980, R.E.M. have released 10 full-length albums and have opened the door for countless similarly styled rock acts -- including Counting Crows -- that were influenced by the band's pumped-up folk-pop style and stream-of-consciousness lyrics.
One of the ways that R.E.M. hoped to stretch their sound, Buck explained, was by experimenting with a variety of offbeat percussion choices in an effort to fill the hole left by Berry's departure last October. Among the sounds recorded is that of a bag of instruments crashing to the ground and the crinkling of an M&M wrapper into a microphone, Buck said.
Percussionist Martin described the sound of the R.E.M. album as "a very lush, beautiful, full-sounding record that doesn't sound like any kind of record I've heard before. It does not sound like a traditional rock band. It's very beautiful and exotic." If the sound that Martin described earlier in the year stands, it would be a far cry from the sometimes explosive, distortion-heavy sound that the band had opted for on its last two efforts, Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi, the latter of which featured the moody single "E-Bow the Letter" (RealAudio excerpt).
Some fans said they are expecting -- and looking forward to -- any change in style. "I think that the album will represent a large level of change in the band's sound just as every other album has," said Justin, 16, webmaster for the "R.E.M. Dead Letter Office" unofficial website. The Tennessee teen said he thought that the absence of Berry would certainly affect the new album's sound, but that he, and any R.E.M. fan, expects the group to change considerably from release to release.
Chris Lyon, the manager of the studio that R.E.M. occupied in San Francisco, confirmed in April that the supergroup was flirting with a modern edge on its new material, one that includes electronic sounds and exotic instruments.
"I was surprised, because the songs sound like R.E.M. songs, but they're not presented in the same way as in the past," said Lyon, who manages Toast Studios. "They weren't as acoustic-y, not as folky as before. The songs I heard seemed to have a slightly newer tinge to them because of the instrumentation, because they definitely used some electronic stuff."
"I feel like the new songs are really great," Stipe said in June. "We don't want to be an oldies act."