April 1, 2008
Just streamed the new R.E.M album "Accelerate" today with some trepidation; all the critical hype around Michael Stipe and co.'s supposed "comeback album" really made my skepticism hackles go up. Though I rated "Up" as one of the 10 finest albums of its release year, "Reveal" and their last outing, "Around the Sun" did leave even the most fervent R.E.M. fans at least a little cold. Maybe a lot cold.
However, I'm exceptionally pleased (and not a little shocked) to say that the strident, rhythmic and melodic "Accelerate," song for song, indeed represents the Athens, GA's band return to form. It's inevitable on such an occasion as this to toss around the word "comeback" like a tennis ball, but I'd go so far to say that this is their "All That You Can't Leave Behind," the record that put U2 back in critical and commercial favor after the techno miscalculation of "Pop."
While some might say R.E.M. is going "back-to-basics" (yawn), it's not spin-doctoring to say that they surveyed their strengths, and channeled them to striking, cohesive effect on these new songs. Sure, there are echoes of vintage R.E.M.: the political finger pointing of "Document" and "Green"; the emotional lyricism of "Murmur" and "Life's Rich Pageant; the loud Peter Buck power chords from "Monster." However, "Accelerate" finds synergy amid its ingredients, and Stipe, Buck and bassist Mike Mills have finally become whole again in the post Bill Berry-era.
R.E.M., an undeniably huge and influential American rock institution, hasn't just accelerated; they've outrun the diminishing expectations their last three records have forced upon them. It's the end of their critical woes as we know it...