I don't usually do full length album reviews (opting more for snarky comments and reminiscing about bands that are long gone) but with the new REM album I felt it was a good time to deconstruct an album in it's entirety. I am glad to see the band put together a solid album and take some effort and time to sound like the band we all know and love. It fits well with their later work (and borrows sonically from "Automatic For The People", "Monster" and "New Adventures in Hi-Fi"). It may be lesser than those albums, but it is certainly better than any of the post Bill Berry work they have done. So here it is track by track:
Track 1 -- Living Well is the Best Revenge
Within the first 15 seconds it is obvious that the band came to rock. Gone are the slow strings and mellow keyboards, "Living Well..." blasts through with a great guitar and bass combo. Lyrically, Michael Stipe seems to be taking on his critics directly (Don't turn your talking points on me, history will set me free. The future's ours and you don't even read the footnote now!)which is something he tends to not do, opting to be a bit more obtuse in his observations. This song could be a long lost cousin of "It's The End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine)."
Track 2 -- Man Sized Wreath
After my initial listen through the album this turned out to be one of my least favorite tracks. It just seems like the song is missing a really good hook. After a few more turns around the album I accepted it as the band's attempt to write a punk song (short, choppy drums, thick guitars, little or no chorus) but I still skip past it in most cases.
Track 3 -- Supernatural Superserious
The first single is the poppiest thing on the record (so it's a natural lead out into the world). a song about lost identity and searching to find a place, it's an obvious allegory for Stipe's own attempts to reconcile his private and public life (something he has been more open about in the past few years then in his younger days). I like it, but it's not a great REM single.
Track 4 -- Hollow Man
The album really gets moving with what starts out as a quiet acoustic song and then finds a real groove. The chorus is absolutely breathtaking as Stipe seeks out meaning in his life. Buck and Mills mine some really familiar territory musically here (there is even the standard descending REM guitar line that is their trademark) and the result is a quintessential REM song. One of the clear highlights of the set.
Track 5 -- Houston
A song about Katrina and the aftermath, "Houston", is a direct attack on the government and it's response and the need for the people of New Orleans to look beyond the ruin and rebuild. One of the band's finest lyrical efforts and musically it is one of two tracks that could be an outtake from Automatic For The People. The electric guitars and the organ comes and goes like waves (an intentional trick given the song's topic). You just sense the narrator's dread as he looks around and wishes he were somewhere else.
Track 6 -- Accelerate
We're back to the rock songs with the title track. I can't say it's very memorable but it sounds great in the car (although the fact that it may be about suicide is certainly a downer).
Track 7 -- Until The Day Is Done
The best song on the album. This is the other Automatic clone, from a musical standpoint, so it's up to the lyrics to carry it. What seems on the surface to be another song about the hopeless nature of the country (a reoccurring theme on the record), it becomes an uplifting song about the ability of man to carry on even in spite of all that he faces.
Track 8 -- Mr. Richards
Could this be addressed to Mr. Bush (or Karl Rove)? A dirge-like number that is definitely a message to those who hold antiquated opinions.
Track 9 -- Sing For The Submarine
A song that hearkens back to early REM (Stipe even throws in an homage to "Feeling Gravity's Pull"), this is a very abstract collection of random lyrics. The song never finds it's groove and left me very unsettled. Somewhere here is a great song (and may get new life live) but I think a little more work on this one would have helped.
Track 10 -- Horse To Water
Of the rock tracks on the album this is one of the best. Stipe is playing the part of a stubborn believer who will not accept the opinion of the masses. This will be a great song live. On this and "Living Well..." Stipe hits the right mix of vitriol and passion and is matched with Buck's big guitar lines and Mills falsetto harmonies.
Track 11 - I'm Gonna DJ
Most people I've read HATE THIS SONG. I can't say I love it but it's not gonna kill me. It's a nice little rock song that will get people up and dancing at the concerts. I'm sure there were better songs that could have been added to the record but it fits with the overall sound and lyrical direction of the album.