Monday, March 31, 2008

Record Review: R.E.M.: Accelerate

The legendary alternative rock band returns to form with their invigorating, animated latest record.
Rating: 4/5

I’m not going to get overtly technical on this review (that’s coming in next week’s Tapes ‘n Tapes analysis). You really only need to know one thing. R.E.M., the greatest rock band to ever walk the planet, has returned. And guess what? They’re in fine form. Accelerate, the band’s fourteenth LP, is their best since- well, who really cares? It’s their best in a long, long time. Stylistically, the album is probably most similar to 1995’s Monster, but that’s a generous comparison. It’ll probably bring to mind the band’s later I.R.S. albums more, such as Life’s Rich Pageant and Document.

The opening three or four songs here are nothing short of murderously ass-kicking. “What is this, the mid-1990’s?” Mike Stipe croons on “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” (note: not a real lyric.) “Man-Sized Wreath,” is the best use of Mike Mills since, well, they stopped making use of Mike Mills. And damn it if “Supernatural Superserious” isn’t the most upbeat song the band has written in over a decade, a classic R.E.M. anthem with less jangle, more electric fuzz, and, yes, possible infringement upon a Matchbox 20 lyric.

Almost as good, though, is “Mr. Richards”, a strikingly well-crafted, politically themed rocker with a melody infectious enough to have been a leftover from the Life’s Rich Pageant recordings. The title track, meanwhile, is a different kind of awesome, the darkest track on the album and also the most intriguing. It doesn’t quite sound like anything the band has recorded before, an achievement considering that as energized as these new jam are, you can basically hum “Swan Song H” to every ballad and “What’s The Frequency Kenneth” to every rocker on Accelerate.

But before we get carried away, some perspective has to be brought into play. As for where Accelerate fits into the overall R.E.M. discography, it’s probably somewhere in between Green and (the underrated) Out of Time. There was no way that a new R.E.M. album could get off dirt-free without hitting a fair share of rough patches. “Houston” and “Sing for the Submarine” don’t leave much of a lasting impression, and “So The Day is Done” is middle-of-the line compared to classic R.E.M. ballads. Furthermore, as it’s been for most of this decade, Stipe’s lyrics lack both urgency and purpose (though we fully believe him when he tells us he’s going to DJ at the end of the world.)

But at the end of the day, Accelerate is easily the most satisfying album I’ve heard all year, for no reason other than that R.E.M. has managed to return from the FM-radio trappings of the past decade when no one was giving them any chance at rebirth. Twenty-five years after Murmur, the band remains a fascination not only because they’ve returned to prominence, but because they’ve done so behind a good album. Accelerate is the return to form we’ve been waiting for. Accelerate is the album you’ll be blaring from your car all summer.

Accelerate rocks.

-Andrew Stone


June 16th said...

i dont think accelerate will be blaring from my car all summer

Erik said...

yeah, you aren't blasting it in my car, andy. that's reserved for the new wolf parade.

Joey (reasonableman616) said...

my bloody valentine will (hopefully) be blaring from my car. and from my headphones. without pause. not kidding. maybe I'll mix it up if r kels dishes out some new closet tales

Andrew said...

This sounds like a challenge to blast Accelerate from my car all summer. You know I'm willing to go to that extreme.

Erik said...

You won't do it.