Thursday, March 24, 2011

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now


R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now
2011, Warner Bros.
Records
It’s difficult to stay relevant as a rock n roller for a decade.  When you’ve been at it for over 30 years like the men in R.E.M., it’s next to impossible.  A rock star’s sixth decade of life generally sees a decline in the vigor that fuels earlier songwriting, followed by a string of greatest hits collections and live albums of recycled material from their younger days.  R.E.M. will not go quietly into the night, and prove it in full measure on their latest album, Collapse Into Now. 
Opening with the urgent, almost crunch guitar work of Peter Buck on “Discoverer”, R.E.M. offers up what may be their edgiest songwriting in 2o years.  “Discoverer” is catchy and impertinent musically with a distinctive pop sensibility at its core.  Stipe howls and wails in classic style, vocally abusing the song into jittery life.  “All The Best” has a similar feel, with a driven and edgy energy you simply cannot ignore, and serves as a reminder that for “old men of rock n roll”, the band still knows more about rocking a house than many of the kids that have followed in their footsteps.  “Uberlin” has more of a classic R.E.M. sound, building on a clean, simple arrangement with solid vocal harmonies.  Stipe sings sans the whiney vocal quality that made him the object of some unfortunate, yet humorous, caricatures in the past.
“Oh My Heart” is a folk/rock ballad about getting back to your roots, but finding all the things that have changed since you moved on.  This tune has a southern-European flavor, with a gorgeous counter-melody in the accordion.    “It Happened Today” is a catchy, acoustic-driven pop parable that offers more of the feeling side of the event than the story.  This is inspired songwriting, sticking in your head even if you’re never really certain of the genesis.  “Every Day Is Yours To Win” is an intriguingly melancholy song of hope; low key but with an insistent energy that won’t let you go.  The simple arrangement works well in context with the emotional and stylistic incongruities of the song.
“Mine Smell Like Honey” is pure fun, an energetic, crunchy-guitar driven tune that gets stuck in your noggin and stays there.  “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is built on the angst of not knowing who you are or where you are going.  There’s a youthful energy to this song that is surprising, and the theme will resonate with the 20-something crowd.  It’s compelling songwriting with a delightfully crunchy sound.  “That Someone Is You” is a driven rock with a garage/pop sensibility that is by far the catchiest tune on the disc.  Don’t be surprised if this is a single at some point, and don’t be surprised if it returns R.E.M. to Billboard’s Hot-100 in full force.  “Me, Marlon Brand, Marlon Brand And I” is a dreamy return to the late-80’s and early 90’s pop-R.E.M. sound, but retains the vibrancy of the band’s most recent works.  R.E.M. close things down with “Blue”, a sort of conglomeration of ideas both musical and cerebrate.  Stipe’s voice-over blends into a surprise vocal appearance by Patti Smith, but this seems like more of an afterthought than a cogent addition to the album.
In spite of wandering off the track at the end, R.E.M.’s Collapse Into Now may be their most vital work since the late 1980’s.  That’s saying something that has made consistency and growth a staple of their career.  Collapse Into Now builds on all the learning and growth that R.E.M. have acquired over three decades of performing and touring together, but re-captures the vigor of youth in surprising measure.  R.E.M. have been critical darlings for most of their careers, and so it won’t be surprising if Collapse Into Now ends up on a host of year-end “best of” lists, but any such inclusions will be very much earned this time around.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about R.E.M. at http://www.remhq.com/ or www.myspace.com/remCollapse Into Now is available from Amazon.com as a CD, on Vinyl, and as a Download.  iTunes offers the album digitally in standard and Deluxe editions.