Three-Legged Dogs

R.E.M. relax and settle in
photo: Anton Corbijn
R.E.M. relax and settle in

Like nearly any DM record, Exciter, their 14th album, mostly leaves one hungry for the inevitable remixes. Even the less moody, dreary songs, like the pitter-pattering single "Dream On," cry out for embellishments—percolating basslines, thudding kick drums, interlocking riffs and countermelodies, gimmicky whip-cracks. You search the melody line for something Danny Tenaglia could rip out of context and make truly frightening. You look forward to Armand van Helden's silly DJ tricks, or even a relentless pummeling from Peter Rauhofer à la 1997's "It's No Good"—anything to drown out the lyrics, stuff Siouxsie Sioux would have junked in 1983: "We are the dead of night/We're in the zombie room!"

Producer Mark Bell, the zombie who made Björk's Homogenic wonderfully lush if completely undanceable, adds a fourth egghead boy to the equation. However, what DM's Anglo-Germanic gestalt really cries out for is an egghead black boy like Afrika Bambaataa to funktify them à la Kraftwerk. If Bell does more than program what he's told, there's little evidence. The only clues that DM are making an album in 2001 are Dave Gahan's "ay-e-ay-yay" melismas, paying femmage to the Spice Girls on "Shine." "Dead of Night" might be a goof on Fad Gadget, but who gives a toss besides Daniel Miller, E.C. Radcliffe, and Gareth Jones? DM doesn't have the sense of mischief for parody. ("Fpimp," their dead-on Philip Glass impression from Music for the Masses, is too much a tribute to count. In fact, it's better than Philip Glass.) The stalled groove of Exciter's Donna Summer knockoff, "I Feel Loved," has more in common with the "samba" setting on a Hammond organ than with Giorgio Moroder's sleaze-beat.

Neither DM nor R.E.M. can pretend that Revealor Exciterranks with their best work, any more than people actually believe U2's All You Can't Leave Behindis a milestone. And it may say something for toiling in obscurity that Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard is doing his best work in his forties, with a mystery and purpose worthy of early Stipe. Nevertheless, it's heartening to note that the Class of '81-'82 has yet to age as gracelessly as Steve Tyler or Mick Jagger. R.E.M.'s a band you could grow old with, sweet and self-mocking enough to end their last tour on Sesame Street, singing "Furry Happy Monsters." You probably won't hear "Enjoy the Silence" in an Infiniti commercial. DM's Andy Fletcher owns a low-key Italian restaurant in St. John's Wood. Still, these middle-aged guys seem fatigued; they've survived drug abuse and alcoholism and invasive surgery, they've lost core members, and they hobble along like three-legged dogs. You can't shallowly accuse them of greed or contractual obligation; the simple fact is that people need to keep working. And should. But maybe that means more soybean farming, stepping up the indie film production, or opening another restaurant. C'mon, Fletch. London's up to here with electronica. What it needs is good food.

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