"Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still"

[Hib-Tone HT 001]

The felicitous dizziness with which Athens, GA became transformed from quaint backwater to a seemingly bottomless well of new wave dance band talent has produced music that, while charmingly quirky in a mainstream pop context, has tended to follow a party line culminating in scratchy singularity which is nonetheless insulated and rigid. The B-52's Pylon, the Method Actors, Limbo District, etc. (innovators all), share a common fondness for staccato - almost vertical - rhythms and often effective, non sequitur lyrics sprinkled jerkily above the beat in a kind of daring, careless pointillism.

R.E.M.'s new single "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still" extends the Athens Sound by being both a pop/rock regression and an incorporation of its customary naive crudeness and verve. The record serves as an exciting synthetical meeting ground between popsters such as the Plimsouls or the Knack (though tougher and more tuneful than either) and Athens' chic-er cadre with their sloppy panache.

Onstage, R.E.M. underscores this deft balance between rock 'n' roll and Beyond Rock with both Athens bounce, and a refreshing swagger and teen appeal absent in the performances of their artier brethren. Eddie Cochran meets Ricky Wilson: Shindig meets the Video Star.

The playing is exuberant and accomplished and if the lyrics are (sadly) indecipherable, singer Michael Stipe delivers them with a kind of lazy flourish reminiscent of the best early rock 'n' roll front-men.

R.E.M. has debuted with a single so assured and memorable that a future as one of America's foremost pop bands seems well within reach. Check it out.

-Paul Evans