Thursday, April 03, 2008

R.E.M. - Accellerate review

All week I've been walking around with “Accelerate”, in my ears. I love a new REM record and it was with considerable anticipation that I hit the play button.

I should probably start by saying that I was one of the only people I know who liked "Around The Sun". I also think "Reveal" is a great album, although truth be told, I don't listen to either much anymore. Except for “Imitation of Life” that is.

In short, I really like Accelerate. It's a good record.

But then you have to ask the question, is it a good REM record? That is a more difficult question. It's easily one of the best records I've heard this year, but this is the band that made "Out Of Time", "Automatic For The People" and "Document". That's not even to mention their wonderful list of singles.

Despite their past conquests, it's is accepted opinion that the last few REM records, really since Bill Berry left, haven't been up to much. While some of us might disagree, the album sales are falling. So REM decided that they needed to either make a great record, or call it a day.

To do this they've drafted in Jacknife Lee, the man who proved that U2 still know how to rock on "How To Dismantle An Atom Bomb". It was a huge success, so can he work his magic with REM?

His formula seems simple - stop Michael Stipe from singing his long ballads and let Peter Buck rip with short direct songs. The first thing that strikes the listener is the guitar. The first six songs feature guitars not seen since "Monster". Mike Mills is right behind with his brilliant bass lanes and backing vocals. "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" is the staccato, 3 minute, punky opener. With it REM set out their stall - this is a comeback record.

Things really get going on "Man Sized Wreath", a 2 minute distorted guitar song with a great chorus. Then before you know it you're at "Supernatural Superserious" the first single and best track on the album. I've had it on repeat for days. 3 minutes and it too is gone.

The next track, "Hollow Man" is a real belter. Stipe confronts his elusive enigmatic nature head on when he sings "I've been lost inside my head/echoes fall on me/I took the prize last night for complicatedness". But then the band let rip with the best chorus on the album.

In fact, the 3 songs leading up to Hollow Man are perhaps the best sequence REM have done since "Everybody Hurts" and "Sidewinder Sleeps" on Automatic for the People.

The second half of the album then begins with Houston, a song about Hurricane Katrina. From there we're on more familiar REM territory, with several songs sounding like outtakes from the "Out of Time" sessions, and more sounding like the IRS years.

It would be easy to say REM are trying to rekindle their early album roots, but it's more than that. REM are putting together everything they have learned over the years, stopped experimenting and made a direct record.

At 35 minutes, it’s over far too soon. Then again, like me you can always hit the repeat button.

Rating: 8/10

Read the TIME magazine piece on REM Finding Their Religion here.

1 comment:

David Williamson said...

How exciting. The guitar work soars in a way we haven't heard for years. I also think Reveal is a brilliant album (and would argue Up has many classic tracks) but it's super to hear the dynamism of their live performances captured on a CD. Way to go, Stipe & co!