After three long years, R.E.M. returns with Collapse into Now, their follow-up to 2008’s Accelerate – and, I must say, their finest album since 1992’s Automatic for the People. Accelerate was a return to form for the band, and this latest effort by Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe harkens back to the early 90’s, before the term “grunge” had even been uttered. Back then, R.E.M. was experiencing great commercial success and was still with original drummer Bill Berry.
This new record feels similar to Automatic in that it strikes a good balance between rock songs and slower, introspective acoustic songs. This balance ensures that Collapse stands alongside the best work in R.E.M.’s catalog.
The album kicks off with “Discoverer,” a song that lets you know you’re in for something good, so hang on for the ride. “All The Best” comes next and is another rocker that has that classic R.E.M. sound. Then onto “Uberlin,” which switches gears and slows things down. We then have “Oh My Heart,” which should be a big radio hit … but probably won’t be because it doesn’t have that pop, Britney Spears quality that seems to appeal to the masses. “It Happened Today” follows and boasts some of the best Mike Mills backing vocals in recent memory. His voice compliments Michael Stipe’s really well and is always welcomed when you get to hear it. “Every Day Is Yours to Win” comes next and has a positive message – get off your butt, realize how great life is, and do something to appreciate it. It might as well be Charlie Sheen’s anthem.
I think the next track, “Mine Smell Like Honey,” is about exactly what it sounds like – passing gas. That may sound strange, but it has a great melody and is another song that should be a hit. “Walk It Back” has a very laid back rhythm and I can’t get the melody out of my head; maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to this record non-stop since I received it. Now we’re back into some more rocking fun with another of Stipe’s great song titles and guest vocals by Peaches; yes, “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is as good as it sounds. I really hope I get a chance one day to hear this one live and loud. “That Someone Is You” is another fast-paced rocker that seems to end too soon and leaves you wanting more. “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” is a song Michael Stipe said was about Neil Young and the song “Pocahontas.” The members of R.E.M. have long admired Neil, so I believe this song is a tip of the hat to him
Finishing out this fine album is “Blue,” which features Stipe speaking over distorted guitars and a haunting background vocal provided by none other than the fantastic Patti Smith. She’s a longtime friend of the band and recorded with them way back on New Adventures in Hi-Fi, the last studio album recorded by the band’s four original members. Bill Berry, of course, famously quit the band to devout his time to becoming a hay farmer and living a life outside of the mainstream.
R.E.M. has decided not to tour behind Collapse into Now, which is disappointing because the last time they toured was back in 2008. With this album satisfying their contract with Warner Brothers, the future of R.E.M. is anyone’s guess. But to say that they’re still capable of writing, recording, and performing at the level their fans are accustomed to would be an understatement.
Album Cover courtesy of Warner Bros.