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For Squirrels wasn’t/isn’t the only young Florida band drawing on the R.E.M. tradition. Seven Mary Three’s American Standard is the Florida-via-Virginia group’s major-label debut, and another un-

deniable tip of the cap to Berry/ Buck/Mills/Stipe.

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Mostly, American Standard proffers a wavery Xerox of the midtempo brooders that have forever flecked (and sometimes defined) R.E.M. long-players. As if to top its dully earnest musical approach, the record is even more deadly serious in its packaging—literally so on the front cover, which reproduces a photo of a chicken seconds away from execution by ax, as a symbolically young boy fidgets in the background.

Such subtlety carries over to SMT’s MTV and radio hit, “Cumbersome,” which is about as lightfooted as you’d expect for a tune with that title. Of course, that’s no hindrance to success in a moment when Stipe’s cautious hopefulness can be diluted into “I’ve got one hand in my pocket and the other’s giving a peace sign”—and help Alanis Morissette’s U.S. debut move more units than Monster. More Outlaws than R.E.M. in its boogieing stomp, “Cumbersome” nonetheless manages a tribute to the latter in its high-pitched, yowling backing vocals, a long-established Mike Mills trademark.

The rest of American Standard is more transparent in its will to cloning. Not only do J. Ross’ clearly enunciated verses remove the guessing-game fun that’s still an occasional pleasure of R.E.M. tracks, they show up just how fuzzily literal his thinking is. “Margaret” is a gloss on the shotgun-wedding tale of Wham!’s creepy mid-’80s smash, “Everything She Wants,” with shoddy math tossed in as a bonus. (The singer estimates his bride is “twenty thousand days younger than me,” so he’s, what, 73 to her 18? Man, Southern gothic.)CP