Okay so let's dispense with this myth. REM is not back. The truth is they never really left. All that has happened is the collective musical marketplace moved on and they have settled into a comfortable place making records and hitting the road. To expect any sort of major creative leap or new direction is missing the point. REM has made their name on a signature sound (one that if often copied) and have spent the last few albums refining that into a sleek, ear friendly mix. Clearly "Collapse Into Now" is not in the high cannon of REM masterpieces, but it is a good album and worth a listen. So here we go:
I covered this when it was released as a single, but now in the context of the record it makes even more sense as the opening track. Peter Buck reignites his guitar and Stipe sounds engaged and interested his lyrics. A high quality anthem to set the tone.
2. All The Best
Every so often REM tries to really rock out. As they have moved into middle age this has been less then effective (see "Man Size Wreath" from the last record). This track hasn't really grabbed me yet, which usually happens at least once.
An acoustic number that is reminiscent of their "Automatic for the People" days, "Uberlin" has some nice harmonies between Stipe and Mike Mills. Lyrically, Stipe is mining the turf he first laid out in "Walk Unafraid", namely the overcoming of obstacles and reaching beyond one's grasp.
4. Oh My Heart
Another acoustic number that has a little New Orleans flavor (with the horns and accordion flavoring the song). Stipe's plaintive use of the timbre in his vocals gives the song a real desperate quality to it.
5. It Happened Today
Where the previous album was a much more defiant record in sound and lyric, the album seems to have been a bit more personal. With backing vocals from Eddie Vedder (which are barely noticeable till the end), this is meant to be the center piece of the record. Buck's acoustic guitar is getting a real workout this time out, as it is the feature again. The song builds to nice crescendo and ends with a wonderful vocal flourish by Stipe, Mills and Vedder together.
6. Every Day Is Yours To Win
A lot of what I have read about this record so far has to do with the recording that was done in the same studio as U2 did "Achtung Baby" in Germany. However, REM has chosen to be less experimental in their trip. This however, is the exception. "Every Day" has an ethereal tone to it and the bridge of simple sounds rather than words gives it an interesting vibe. It also seems that the boys have been digging into their old VELVET UNDERGROUND records for guitar lines.
7. Mine Smell Like Honey
The proper single off the record is a traditional REM rock song with the return of the electric guitar. The chorus is really catchy and would sound great on radio, if they still got airplay. Of all the songs on this collection, this is the one that will translate the best live.
8. Walk It Back
This is clearly meant to be the "Everybody Hurts" moment of the album. A piano led ballad with Stipe in his lost soul persona. Every so often REM opens it's musical vault for a their interpretation of a soul song. I have never really liked this version of their sound but I guess we can tolerate it for a bit.
9. Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter
My initial thought was this would have been more at home on "Accelerate" since it has that records more aggressive tone. The rocker is a quasi-duet with singer PEACHES and again is REM tapping into their Punk Rock side.
10. That Someone Is You
Feels like a throw away song that might have been better served as a b side. It's at this point the record seems to drag a bit.
11. Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I
With a title like that the song had better kick ass. The sound is a return to the more somber tone of the record and is quite beautiful. A rumination on death (I think), Stipe's vocals are simple, understated and are matched with a nice piano and acoustic guitar accompaniment. A real highlight of the record.
A sing speak coda similar to "Belong" it is haunting and gorgeous at the same time. I love when they take these sorts of risks, letting the feedback of the guitar wash over Stipe's poetry to make a sound all to itself. PATTI SMITH returns to offer her vocals to the chorus which have always been a good match for Stipe's. A nice way to close the record. (There is a slight return of the "Discoverer" chorus that has no real purpose other than to extend the playing time but it bears mentioning.)
In terms of comparing this record to the last decade's output (which is I think a fairer assessment of it's merits) it is certainly better than "Reveal" or "Around the Sun" but not as consistently good as "Accelerate". But worth your time if you are even a casual fan.