In 2008 R.E.M. came roaring back with the riff-heavy Accelerate. They sounded like a band with something to prove…that they still knew how to rock. Mission accomplished. This time around, they, again, sound like a band with something to prove…that they are R.E.M.
Ever since drummer Bill Berry left the group in 1997, the band has struggled with its musical direction and since then has also seemed to lose its unique identity. Collapse Into Now sounds like a determined effort to bring back the R.E.M of Automatic For The People and Out Of Time.
Producer Jacknife Lee is back, as are the rocking riffs of Accelerate, at least on the first two tracks, Discoverer and All The Best. The former is a noisy, guitar-driven rocker with an infectious bass line while the latter finds Michael Stipe singing, ”Let’s show the kids how to do it…let’s give it one more time”.
The next track, Uberlin, does just that. The acoustic guitars and mandolins are out and this mid-tempo tune sounds familiar…perhaps a bit of Man On The Moon, or Losing My Religion will come to mind. The same can be said for It Happened Today, even with Eddie Vedder’s guest backing vocals and the solemn, stately Walk It Back. The horns on Oh My Heart are a pleasant surprise, but Stipe’s reference to “the kids” is somewhat disturbing. Generally, when a band starts referring to “The kids”, it means they’ve lost touch with their audience. Stipe tries his hand as a life coach on the cheery, but patronising Every Day Is Yours. I’m sure he means well, but I don’t really need Michael Stipe to tell me, “It’s not all cherry pie, but it’s all there waiting for you”, reminds me too much of Forrest Gump, and I hated that damn movie.
R.E.M. seems to be reaching back to their glory days even with their guests. Patti Smith and her guitarist Lenny Kaye show up on a couple tracks. They are pretty much drowned out on Discoverer, but Smith’s voice and sensibly comes through on Blue, the final track on the album, and the one that doesn’t sound like an R.E.M. re-tread.
Overall, it’s not a bad return to form. Stipe’s lyrics seem to get stronger as the album progresses and Peter Buck’s mandolin does sound nice in small doses. I just hope that the band can move forward and produce some mature, original music from this point on. This is a step in the right direction, even if it feels like a step backwards at times.
Click here to listen to It Happened Today from Collapse Into Now: