Saturday, October 13, 2012

R.E.M. 18: Accelerate

It actually happened—for the first time since the start of the creative decline that coincided with Michael Stipe shaving his head, R.E.M. produced an album that encouraged repeat listens. Accelerate sounds like them again, rocking like Lifes Rich Pageant and the better parts of Green—and nothing like the muddy glam of Monster. This was the R.E.M. we’d been waiting for since that misfire, still clogging the used bins nationwide.
Having decided shorter is better, the band keeps it simple here, with eleven songs coming in at under 35 minutes. These songs don’t meander, and barely give you time to catch your breath before the next one kicks in. “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” fires out of the speakers, Stipe sounding good and pissed off—at haters, perhaps? “Man-Sized Wreath” is especially reminiscent of Pageant with its guitar attack, “Taxman” bass and drums that actually sound like the much-missed Bill Berry. “Supernatural Superserious” was an iffy choice for a lead single, but it comes off more solid when heard within the sequence. Guitars drive these songs, as opposed to the keyboards from the last few albums. Although “Hollow Man” starts with piano and threatens to slow things down, it soon accelerates (sorry) smoothly to an urgent rocker, like Pearl Jam filtered through R.E.M., of all things. “Houston” has what sounds like a distorted organ, but it’s mostly an effect used on a song likely about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The title track begins with one of those great atonal Peter Buck riffs, before turning into an urgent rocker akin to ‘90s Rush (and that’s meant in a good way).
“Until The Day Is Done” rivals their best acoustic moments, and delivers their meditative side much more effectively than anything on their last three albums. Most of the words on the album are jumbled, which is good, since close listens haven’t always proved to be rewarding. Stipe does sprinkle political statements throughout the tracks, and it’s tough to listen to “Mr. Richards” without thinking of Cosmo Kramer. “Sing For The Submarine” could have used a little more ambiguity too. But overall it’s about feel, with the top speed of “Horse To Water”, ending with the Blur-like “woo-hoo” interjections on “I’m Gonna DJ”—a song previewed on the previous year’s live album, and luckily overcomes any potential of being this album’s “Shiny Happy People” or “Stand”.
The original version of this review ended thusly: “Time will tell if this album has staying power, but for now, it’s great to have them back.” We stand by that statement. Accelerate is an excellent return to form, and their best effort since Automatic For The People. So there.

R.E.M. Accelerate (2008)—

10 comments:

  1. 'splain why bill berry is no longer with the group.

    'splain why rem should matter to today's youth.

    dick

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  2. Basically he retired from the band after suffering a brain aneurysm onstage while on tour. Now he's a farmer.

    As for your second question, I'll have to get back to you on that.

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  3. Bill Berry shows up on occasion -- he played drums on R.E.M.'s version of "#9 Dream" for a John Lennon tribute album that was released last year. He also played an entire set with his former bandmates this week in a surprise concert in their unofficial hometown of Athens, Ga.

    --Chuck

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  4. 'splain why rem should matter to today's youth.

    IMHO that's pretty much an impossible question to answer. Take out "REM" and replace it with any band, and I think somebody would be hard pressed to explain why people, young or otherwise, should care. Either the music connects or it doesn't. And even if you could lay out a reasoned argument, the kids wouldn't listen to you anyway.

    Vance

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  5. what i care about is do they have anything to say.
    i have a teenager. he won't listen to rem. he needs a beat or he isn't interested. rem never traded on beats, they tried to hook you with intelligence and a certain catchiness.
    are they still trading on that or have they made an album of 'beats'? either way, why make an album?

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  6. This album does have beats, and the band's definitely taking the excuse to rock. Interviews I've read have talked about their desire to please their fans again -- fans who most likely are old enough to have teenagers who think of the band as something their parents listen to (read: not cool).
    Future posts will attempt to explain the ongoing appeal of their earlier albums.

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  7. You will file it in two weeks to be ignored inperpetuity like everthing since Monster.

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  8. Or maybe not. I'll check again in two weeks.

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  9. "Future posts will attempt to explain the ongoing appeal of their earlier albums."

    I'm hoping you're not just teasing us and will give us your thoughts on R.E.M.'s entire catalog at some point. When "Murmur" came out in the early '80s, I was thrilled to hear what sounded to me like a guitar-based rock band that was a throwback to the '60s. I have followed them ever since. Unfortunately, "Accelerate" isn't a CD that I go back to often.

    Your thoughts on the careers of Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, B-52's, and Joan Baez would also be enjoyed.

    As always, your blog is a great pleasure to read. Thank you.

    Geoff

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  10. Thank you, Geoff! The R.E.M. posts will follow eventually, I promise you. I think you'll agree that the quality of their first few albums make diving into them a little daunting, which is why it's taken so long. Paul Simon and Mark Knopfler are certainly in the pipeline as well.

    I put on "Accelerate" recently, and enjoyed it. I didn't love it, but.. well, all will be revealed in time. (No puns intended, I assure you.)

    Thanks again for the kind words.

    wardo

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