Monday, April 28, 2008

Accelerate Goes Fast Enough

I know bloggers are supposed to review music several months before it’s released, because they’ve illegally downloaded the files or somehow convinced a publicist to send a review copy for the benefit of the blog’s six readers. I apologize.

R.E.M.’s Accelerate came out four weeks ago, which means this might be the last opinion about it to appear anywhere. And since I’ve proven to be less than objective about the band around here, I’m sure you’re reaching for your grain of salt.

Accelerate is good. Solid. Which, given the recent history of the band, translates to very good. It’s not that the last three records, all without original drummer Bill Berry, were without their moments. Up might be the most interesting record they’ve made since Berry left, because it was their initial attempt to deal with his loss, but it's also their most sonically inert work. I still enjoy “Daysleeper” and “Why Not Smile,” but most of the others songs suffer from an awkward combination of overproduction and lack of energy.

Reveal was awfully boring, too, though “Beat a Drum” is gorgeous and “Imitation of Life” was a good enough imitation of the band’s radio-single sound. Around the Sun, their most critically disdained album, has a handful of songs that I really enjoy, but also some deathly slogs, like “Electron Blue,” “Boy in the Well,” and “The Worst Joke Ever.”

The new record is anti-slog. Even the songs that border on dirges don't stick around long enough to annoy, like the Katrina response "Houston," which clocks in at 2:05. So Accelerate is what it was advertised as, a consciously energetic return to form. Not the form of the band’s ridiculously long peak, from 1983 to 1992, but the consistency that was the band’s hallmark before Berry left. Not every song on Accelerate is a pure winner, but only the closing track, “I’m Gonna DJ,” probably should have stayed on the shelf.

And “Supernatural Superserious” is probably the best song the band has recorded since 1996. As one critic wrote, “...when you hear (Mike Mills) on the peppy single ‘Supernatural Superserious,’ it’s like, ‘Ahh, yes, that is R.E.M.’” And while someone else put it a different way, writing that it’s “the kind of song R.E.M. could write in its collective sleep,” that’s kind of the point. I’ve always appreciated when artists of any stripe play to their strengths, because it's just a figure of speech; they might be able to do it in their sleep, but almost no one else can do it while wide awake.

The return of Mills’ backing vocals on other songs is the album’s most refreshing element. The song “Man-Sized Wreath” is a good example of why Accelerate succeeds when recent efforts failed. The lyrics are ridiculous -- even by Stipe’s legendary standards of obscurity, “a tearful hymn to tug the heart and a man-sized wreath, oww,” makes no damn sense. But when the songs chugs along like it does, and Mills backs up the chorus with his plaintive crooning, it’s hard to complain.

Plus, the new material seems to have energized the band’s performance of its classics -- as you can see and hear with "These Days" and "Cuyahoga" -- and that’s a blessing itself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arrggh! I don't get why this album is getting so any good reviews. It sounds exactly the same as the albums they were producing in the 90s. Like, absolutely no progression whatsoever! You don't come out with a new album for years, and then when you do it sounds like you've done absolutely nothing to modernize your sound in all that time? Nothing new or interesting has influenced you?

It was rad to hate on R.E.M. when their last album came out, and now it's rad to like them. The last two albums are carbon copies!

Is Superserious a good song? It is if you like R.E.M.--which, surprisingly, I do. But I wanted to hear R.E.M. use their signature sound and talent to create something new and exciting and fresh.

11:29 AM  

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