R.E.M. ‘Collapse Into Now’ – Familiar yet Fresh
The veteran rockers of R.E.M. are back with a new album and it sounds happy and full of life! This album is basically what 2008’s ‘Accelerate’ was trying to be. After ex-drummer Bill Berry’s departure in the mid 90’s, the band went into an extremely melancholic, almost lackadaisical mode with their next 3 albums. 1998’s ‘Up’ at least had excellent songwriting throughout despite the lack of energy but the next one, ‘Reveal’ sounded totally lost and direction-less. With ‘Accelerate’, they regained a lot of that lost energy but somehow it ended up sounding like they were trying too hard to rock again. Now with this new one, they have managed to arrange together the perfect mix of catchy rockers, slower atmospheric numbers and pretty mid-tempo ditties.
It all kicks off with a ringing rocker titled ‘Discoverer’ which is immediately reminiscent of something like ‘Finest Worksong’ off of ‘Document’. When I listened to the song-leak prior to album release, I was not that thrilled about it. But it has managed to grow on me over time. With track 2 ‘All The Best’ they come out all-guns-blazing and deliver a ridiculously catchy, fun song. The next one is a medium-paced, pretty little guitar track called ‘ÜBerlin’ which took me a few listens to really like. Musically, it sounds a bit like their song ‘Electrolite’ and lyrically it is Stipe at his most hopeful: “I will make it through the day and then the day becomes the night. I will make it through the night.” It also has a cool little musical bridge just before the last verse that I really love. Then we go on to a song called ‘Oh My Heart’ which despite its somewhat cliché lyrics, has a pleasant swinging rhythm to it. It answers the question asked by the song ‘Houston’ on the previous album, by stating “The storm didn’t kill me. The government changed.” Track 5 ‘It Happened Today’ is the one with Eddie Vedder on guest vocals. And for all the excitement it brought up in my mind just because I was going to hear Eddie’s awesome voice, I think the song kind of fell flat. The chorus is nice enough but there doesn’t seem to be much substance to the whole song and one can hardly even hear Eddie’s voice clearly except at the very end. ‘Every Day Is Yours To Win’, a mellow track with positive life affirming lyrics sounds a bit too much like their classic ‘Drive’ as it gets going. It ends up being a cheerful sing-along that is not remarkable but rather harmless in the middle of the album.
The second half kicks off with ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ which has classic rocking R.E.M. written all over it. The song has a catchy chorus but is not my favourite here. The next one titled ‘Walk It Back’ sounds very different from anything they have written so far, a pleasant pop song to change the pace a little. Track 9 ‘Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’ is great fun to listen to but is basically made up of nonsensical lines like “I feel like an alligator climbing up the escalator” and “I’m the world’s strongest island”. It features guest vocals by Peaches whose voice seems to have an uncanny resemblance to that of Kate Pierson, their well-known guest vocalist from years past. Track 10 ‘That Someone Is You’ is a quick rocker which I quite enjoy listening to. The lyric “That someone has pulled me up and out of cartoon quicksand” is amusing because Stipe has used “cartoon brick wall” before on the album ‘Up’. Anyway, recycling aside most of these songs are catchy and memorable. The next track ‘Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I’ is a pensive ballad that reminds me of songs off of ‘Green’ or even ‘Automatic For The People’. This is the kind of stuff that was missing on their previous album and gives this one a fuller feel. Final track ‘Blue’ features their other famous friend Patti Smith on guest vocals. As soon as the melancholic strumming guitar comes through the speakers, one is reminded instantly of ‘Country Feedback’. I mean, it is a pretty blatant lift from R.E.M.’s own material. Then as Stipe starts doing his talk-singing thing and Patti croons lazily over the tune, one cannot help but wonder if this is ‘E-bow The Letter’ Part 2. Just before the end, the tune stops abruptly and you hear the ringing guitar of first track ‘Discoverer’ again. They end the whole thing with a reprise of Discoverer which makes it nice to listen to this album in a repeat loop.
So in summary, except for a couple of average sounding numbers here and there, this album is for the most part amazingly fun to listen to. Stipe sounds joyous and full of life as he raps “This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive. Living. Blessed. I understand. Twentieth Century Collapse Into Now.” This is the most complete album they have made since ‘New Adventures…’ or ‘Up’ and it shows! They play to their strengths here by revisiting various sounds from their thirty year history and in the end it doesn’t really sound like a rehash. If this were their last album (which it could very well be, sadly), it would be an awesome high to go out on! All in all, a good album by a great band.
Rating: 4 / 5