Venerable pop-rockers R.E.M. display little artistic progress on "Around the Sun," the group's 13th studio album and third as a trio.

Venerable pop-rockers R.E.M. display little artistic progress on "Around the Sun," the group's 13th studio album and third as a trio. The set's 13 lush, melodic tracks hark back to 2001 set "Reveal" but fail to offer as diverse a spectrum of songwriting as can be found on that record and throughout the band's storied career. Frontman Michael Stipe summons a handful of memorable chorus hooks, notably on first single "Leaving New York," "The Boy in the Well" and the subdued "I Wanted to Be Wrong." But the band's writing stagnates, rendering the majority of the album in a rote midtempo formula that Stipe's increasingly trite lyrics can't always save. Standouts include the Blur-aping "Wanderlust" and the octave-straddling chorus of "The Ascent of Man." Sadly, "The Worst Joke Ever" nearly lives up to its title, helping make this the least essential R.E.M. release to date.—TC