With the release of their 15th album, R.E.M. have reached a curious stage in their career. By all accounts, their previous album was a return to form, but the feeling that they are no longer the heavyweight name they were in the nineties lingers. Despite that, there is some truth in their claim that Collapse Into Now is their “best record since Out Of Time”.
Opening track ‘Discoverer’ is the perfect album opener and sees the band at their very best. It’s a vital, energetic statement of intent which serves as a reminder of why there is still room for another R.E.M. album after all these years. ‘All The Best’ quickly follows, which would not have been out of place on 2008’s Accelerate. It’s an aggressive song led by pounding drums and Michael Stipe’s urgent vocal delivery.
The opening onslaught is eased, with the mellow ‘Uberlin’ and ‘Oh My Heart’ showcasing their more tender side. The latter is a beautiful ballad, proving that maturity need not be a dirty word in music.
It’s not all good news though; there are obvious low points. Although it sounds like a classic R.E.M. single, the cringeworthy lyrics of ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ are inescapable. Whilst they could never be accused of taking themselves too seriously, the shocking ‘Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter’ is as terrible as the title itself. It’s a throwaway song, which sounds stupid and totally unnecessary.
Fortunately, the positives outweigh the negative, with the weary and reflective ‘Walk It Back’ proving that Stipe, when he chooses to, can still pen a beautiful lyric.
It’s the final song here that makes Collapse Into Now a truly worthwhile listen. Reunited on record with the legendary Patti Smith, ‘Blue’ is a mysterious, gorgeous end to the album with Lenny Kaye providing an intense and brooding musical backdrop. A reprise of ‘Discover’ follows, bringing the album full circle to a wonderful climax.
Towards the end of ‘Blue’, part of Stipe’s monologue reads: “I am thrilled to be alive”. You can hear why – this is definitely the sound of a band thrilled to still be making music. Whilst not without flaws, R.E.M. haven’t sounded this fascinating for a long, long time. Bands late into their career often oversell their new album by claiming it’s their best in years. Whilst it doesn’t quite top New Adventures In Hi-Fi, R.E.M. were right to make that claim.
From Craig Jones.