Tuesday, March 8, 2011

REVIEW - R.E.M. - 'Collapse Into Now'

Stream the album at NPR.

It is hard to think of new things to say about R.E.M. It is even harder when, in my case, you have only been alive for two-thirds of the band’s existence. But it says a lot about R.E.M.’s legacy when they have people my age continuing to follow them. Collapse Into Now is a rewarding payoff for those of us who stuck with the band through the rough patches (I am looking at you, Around the Sun).

From start to finish, you can tell that this album means something big to the band. Collapse Into Now continues where 2008’s Accelerate left off. The opening track, “Discoverer,” hits you right out of the gate with guitar work reminiscent of “Turn You Inside-Out” from their 1988 album Green. The power from the opener continues into the next track, “All the Best,” arguably the hardest song off of the album. Collapse then slows down a bit on the next two tracks “Überlin” and “Oh My Heart,” going back to more of the older sounding R.E.M. we know from Automatic for the People. “It Happened Today” features backing vocals/moaning from longtime friend and fan Eddie Vedder. It is at this point in the album where the listener feels that R.E.M. has truly returned to form.

The second half of the album could be less than impressive and you would still be satisfied. But that is not the case; it is more than impressive. “Mine Smells Like Honey,” the first single off of the record, is the catchiest R.E.M. song in years. Peaches provides guest vocals on “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” (a head scratcher for sure), but it makes a little more sense due to the fact that R.E.M. recorded a third of this album in Berlin (Peaches lives there), and it makes even more sense when you listen to how well her voice blends with Stipe’s. “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” once again pays tribute to the old sounds of R.E.M. featuring a mandolin riff frightfully similar to Green’s “The Wrong Child.” The album then concludes with “Blue.” The track opens with three minutes of Stipe talking about things that he wants. At the end of his rant, he reveals not only the meaning behind the album’s title, but a plead to the listener: “20th century, collapse into now.” The song then settles down with guest vocals from Patti Smith. But the most rewarding part is right when you think the album is finished and that the flame is just about to burn out, Buck comes roaring back with a reprise of the album’s opening track, “Discoverer,” bringing the album to a close.

The only thing to be upset about with Collapse Into Now is that the band is not touring in support of it. As they announced in late January, “We don’t tour to support a record. We tour because we like to play. To tour when your heart isn’t in it would be a real bad mistake for us.” It is a shame, too, because this is an album that would play out really well live. R.E.M. seems to be happy doing whatever they want to do at this point. After this album, they are free from their label. “We have the option of doing anything we want – and no pressure to do anything,” said bassist Mike Mills in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. So maybe they just do not want to overdue it at this point in their career. Like Stipe sings in “All the Best,” “It’s just like me to overstay my welcome.” But with Collapse Into Now, I welcome R.E.M. to stay around for as long as they would like to.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Stand Out Tracks: "It Happened Today," "Mine Smell Like Honey," "Oh My Heart"