PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am




REM have finally done what most rock acts ever saddled with the 'biggest band in the world' title eventually do - strip it back to basics and rediscover what made them good in the first place.

Their 11th album is a triumph, a 36-minute joy ride through 11 songs that evoke the sound of their mid-80s pomp and mainstream early 90s success.

Recorded in just nine days with Editors producer Jacknife Lee, singer Michael Stipe (right) sounds as energised as he has in more than a decade, while guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mick Mills sound liberated from previous efforts overtly aimed at, and ultimately falling short of, the hype.

In truth, REM lost their way after 1992's Automatic for the People became one of the world's best-selling albums. The success spawned Monster three years later, a huge disappointment, and when drummer Bill Berry quit the band in 1997 after a health scare, they struggled to recapture the spirit that made them such an influential band. Despite remaining phenomenally successful, the malaise reached a nadir with 2004's Around the Sun, and a four-year hiatus since suggested nothing was about to change.

Instead, they have swaggered back into our lives with an urgency that harks back to the time when they were cult heroes, rather than stadium rockers with a penchant for mile-high temper tantrums.

There mightn't be anything to match the beauty of Orange Crush or the mass appeal of Losing My Religion, but the opener Living Well is the Best Revenge, through Horse to Water and Supernatural Superserious are among the best songs the band has produced.

Once again they sound like a band enjoying themselves. And that means we get to enjoy it too.