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)—3½