On the Record #10: R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now (2011)
March 9, 2011 1 Comment
Since drummer Bill Berry’s departure from R.E.M. after 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, the band has been searching to find a new sound. After 15 years and four albums, turns out that new sound is their old sound. 2008’s Accelerate proved R.E.M. still knew how to be immediate and urgent, and critics hailed it a comeback. That album’s aggressive attack and succinct songs was really just prelude to what I’m calling their true comeback, 2011’s Collapse Into Now. I hate using the buzz-phrase “return to form,” so I won’t, but Collapse has the band sounding the way they did during their 90s heyday.
Opening with the chiming, Monster-sized guitars and glimmering keyboards, “Discoverer” announces R.E.M.’s comeback in a big way. Exuding the kind of balls-out confidence Stipe had on track like New Adventures‘ “The Wake-Up Bomb,” the song urges listeners dig deep – discover – the rest of the record. It’s as good an opening salvo the band has ever produced. Through the remaining 11 tracks, the band hits (mostly) highs, synthesizing Out of Time, Automatic for the People, Monster, and New Adventures. Perhaps to the detriment of the album, many of the tracks look to specific songs from these albums as starting points: The otherwise gorgeous “Oh My Heart” recalls Out of Time‘s “Half a World Away,” “All the Best” and “Mine Smell Like Honey” echo “Departure,” “Überlin” sounds like a sequel to “Drive” and the album-closing “Blue” feels like an extension of “Country Feedback” (my favourite R.E.M. track) and “E-bow the Letter.”
Yet, this are just minor quibbles from a long-time R.E.M. fan who never thought they had another classic in them. To be sure, Collapse Into Now is not a classic, but it is probably the closest the band will ever come again. And really, how close can any band come to matching something so strikingly brilliant as Automatic for the People? I’ll take what I can get.