Monday, February 4, 2013

R.E.M. 20: Collapse Into Now

Accelerate was such a refreshing return to form—and a surprising one—that it was hoped R.E.M. could keep it up for their next album. For the most part, Collapse Into Now does continue the quality, even if some of the tracks sound too familiar from certain elements of their catalog.
“Discoverer” is a strong opener, a churning rocker along the lines of “Turn You Inside Out”. “All The Best” follows the Lifes Rich Pageant/Green pattern of having a heavy rocker for track two. Lines like “It’s just like me to overstay my welcome” still raise an eyebrow. With its acoustic backing and “hey” lyrics, “Überlin” begins like a retread of “Drive”, but surpasses that supposition by the time the bird noises kick in. Speaking of similarities, “Oh My Heart” seems like something of sequel to “Houston” filtered through “Swan Swan H”. Much was made of Eddie Vedder’s contribution to “It Happened Today”, but he’s easy to miss, unless you’re listening really closely to the second half of the song, a wordless singalong that’s more stirring than the first half. (The band made the song available for free amateur remixing via such software as Garage Band, which provided interesting insight into how they built the sounds of the track.) “Every Day Is Yours To Win” is nice and dreamy for a change.
“Mine Smell Like Honey” is a great driving track, but the title still has us convinced he's talking about his farts. Another welcome lull comes with “Walk It Back”, before things turn up again on “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter”. This is a toetapper despite the hideous title and vocal-heavy mix, plus unnecessary special guest Peaches. “That Someone Is You” brings back the classic sound from their first albums, albeit with much more direct lyrics, but unfortunately ends before it has time to sink in. Anything called “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I” is going to remind music snobs of Neil Young’s “Pocahontas”, but the song itself is much better than that, another haunting meditation. “Blue”—the only track without its lyrics printed—is mostly a rewrite of “Country Feedback”, and featuring Stipe heroine Patti Smith serving the same function she did on “E-Bow The Letter”, but manages to be even more in the way. However, the reprise of “Discoverer” tacked at the end makes for a wonderful finish, giving the suggestion of a closed circle.
R.E.M. seemed more interesting when you couldn’t understand the words; now that they’re up front and printed on the sleeve, their shortcomings are immediately obvious. But if it only took thirty years for them to start repeating themselves, they were at least ahead of the game. While it doesn’t quite hold together, Collapse Into Now isn’t bad, even for them. And while their best work still seemed to be behind them, that they could manage to tease their fans is a testament to their talent. It almost gave us hope that they would do it again.

R.E.M. Collapse Into Now (2011)—3

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