ROCK: Monster Music

R.E.M., One of America's best bands, is back with its loudest, boldest album

Fame, alas, can insulate a performer from the masses. But nowadays when pop- music stars feel the need to get in touch with the public mood, they have only to log on to the nearest computer bulletin board. Which is precisely what Michael Stipe did a few weeks ago. The lead singer of the rock band R.E.M., based in Athens, Georgia, spent a few hours online to answer questions from his fans and satisfy his curiosity. "The record's almost done, and I'm bored," he typed. Folks peppered him with queries. What would the group's highly anticipated new CD sound like? "Like...

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