Collapse into Now
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2011, Volume 18, #6
Written by John Metzger
Sun September 4, 2011, 05:30 AM CDT
Under the guidance of Jacknife Lee, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills not only rediscovered their mojo, but they also used it to propel their most easily accessible effort in years. The melodic intonations of Accelerate were hard to resist; the raw, crash-and-burn ferocity of the set was impossible to ignore. Fans who were challenged, perplexed, and frustrated by the ambient tones of Up and the political discordance of Around the Sun had reason to celebrate because R.E.M. had stopped running from its past. Even better, the outfit finally had found a way of comfortably making its work fill the oversized arenas in which it had been performing for decades.
On its latest set Collapse into Now, R.E.M. followed a similar blueprint. In fact, based, solely upon the raucous nature of tracks like Discoverer, Mine Smell Like Honey, All the Best, That Someone Is You, and Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter, it would seem as if R.E.M. had done little to alter its approach. Much like those on Accelerate, the songs on Collapse into Now relentlessly charge forward, and they are pushed along their path by a potent combination of aggressive rhythms, raging guitars, and Stipeís swaggering vocals. Not surprisingly, commercial radio stations across the country gravitated to these moments on Collapse into Now, leaving the impression that the endeavor was merely a sequel to Accelerate.
This, however, isnít entirely the case. If anything, the common thread that binds together Accelerate and Collapse into Now is its classicist stance. In effect, the purpose of both sets is to reconnect the R.E.M. of today with the group that climbed out of the club scene in Athens, Georgia 30 years ago, thanks to the groundswell of enthusiasm over its first single Radio Free Europe. Where Accelerate emphasized R.E.M.ís punk-fueled drive, Collapse into Now illuminates its folk-pop charm. Aside from the obvious nods to Reckoning and Murmur that line the endeavor, there also are plenty of times when the music draws upon the most popular efforts in R.E.M.ís canon: Out of Time, Automatic for the People, and Lifeís Rich Pageant.
Some would fault R.E.M. for failing to introduce any new ideas into its recent work. Everything from the mandolin-graced It Happened Today to the sorrow-basted melody of Walk It Back to the folk-y strum of Oh My Heart could stand as a leftover from one of the bandís earlier endeavors. Nevertheless, considering the flak that R.E.M. took when it reinvented itself in the wake of drummer Bill Berryís departure, it is easy to understand why the group has opted now to pave its present with its past. After all, the move ó along with a stream of special guests that include Patti Smith (Blue) and Eddie Vedder (It Happened Today) as well as Lenny Kaye and Peaches (Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter) ó will help the outfit to retain its commercial viability.
Cynical assertions aside, with Accelerate and Collapse into Now, R.E.M. has created its most consistent efforts in two decades. The former set reinstated R.E.M.ís attention-grabbing aggressiveness; the latter effort rebuilt the diversity of the groupís approach. Too often, when bands settle for these sorts of endeavors, they sound defeated, as if they are remaking the past because they have nowhere else to go. R.E.M., on the other hand, sounds very much alive.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box