By ALEX VAN BEEK
R.E.M.’s latest album, “Collapse Into Now,” is being lauded as the spiritual successor to their 2008 album “Accelerate,” which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
“Accelerate” didn’t have the classic R.E.M. sound that fans have come to expect from the band. Thankfully, “Collapse Into Now” is a step back towards R.E.M.’s past, and while it is not “song for song, the best thing we’ve ever done,” as guitarist Peter Buck insisted, it is a welcome return to form after a decade of missteps.
Many of R.E.M.’s greatest hits are pop songs, and the ones featured on “Collapse Into Now” do little to diverge from this trend. “Mine Smell Like Honey” could have easily come off of “Out of Time,” with its expansive sound as well as Stipe’s bassist Mike Mills’ shared harmony over the chorus.
“Oh My Heart,” a much more relaxed number, sees the return of Buck’s mandolin, which is featured prominently throughout the song.
The best of the bunch would have to be “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter,” which shares more than a passing resemblance to the band’s ‘90s hit “Orange Crush” with its non-sensical lyrics and in-your-face guitar playing. R.E.M. clearly used past achievements as a framework for this album, which works more for them than it does against them.
Equally impressive are the more acoustic tracks. “Überlin” was the most pleasant surprise on the album, with surreal vocals from Stipe that are accentuated by Buck’s guitar playing. Stipe gets the opportunity to show his range on “It Happened Today,” which also features the always distinctive Eddie Vedder on back-up vocals.
“Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” showcases the bands reflective side and as a result is one of the more moving tracks on the album.
Ultimately, these select tracks show that while the band takes inspiration from the past, they’re not just dwelling on it, and are taking strides to further their music even this late in the game.
If there’s a problem with the album, it’s that three of the songs are throwaways, which is unacceptable for an album that runs only 41 minutes. “Blue” showcases the fantastic Patti Smith, but her talents are wasted on a track that has Stipe incoherently babbling nonsense through the first two minutes. There is a huge build-up in “That Someone Is You,” which unfortunately doesn’t lead anywhere, and “All The Best” is anything but.
Despite these shortcomings, however, R.E.M. has crafted what is easily their best album since 1992’s “Automatic For The People.” “Collapse Into Now” shows that when R.E.M. has direction, they can still make some truly great songs 30 years into their career.
4 out of 5 stars