Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Collapse Into Now - R.E.M.

Having owned and listened extensively to all of R.E.M.'s studio records over the past five years, it's safe to say they're the most consistent band of their generation, in terms of musical output. Even lesser critically acclaimed albums like Up and Around The Sun I don't ever consider weak. On a side note, check out last year's re-release of the very underrated Fables Of The Reconstruction. No matter whether it's going for something new or returning to form, you can always count on the band to deliver the goods. Having said that, Collapse Into Now is their best work since New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

Mostly recorded in the famous Hansa Studios in which David Bowie's 'Berlin trilogy' came from, Collapse Into Now is a move away from the sound of 2008's Accelerate (Jacknife Lee's production is superb here). A bit similar in tone to Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, here you have slower introspective ballads mixed in with up-tempo rockers, and stuff in between. Discoverer opens the album with Peter Buck's hooky Rickenbacker riff ("Byrds-esque"). And then Michael Stipe's singing hits you like a ton of bricks. I love the way he phrases his words here; it's become his signature style.

One of the highlights is It Happened Today, uplifting and joyful and inspiring. They just have a knack for crafting the most basic chord progressions into incredible catchy melodies and hooks. It's good to hear the mandolin again. If you listen closely, you can hear Eddie Vedder's distinctive howling in the background. And don't you just love it when Mike Mills sings too? Mine Smell Like Honey is also damn infectious, made as if it's meant for you to listen over and over again. The other fast songs like All The Best and Alligator (featuring some cool female vocals from Peaches circa '70s Patti Smith) is classic R.E.M.. The slower mid-tempo songs like Walk It Back and Everyday Is Yours To Win don't really do anything for me; they sound a bit forced. But Uberlin (and I can't emphasize how very fucking amazing this song is) and the New Orleans tribute Oh My Heart are excellent, the latter being a follow-up to a song called Houston from the previous album ("The storm didn't kill me, the government changed"). And if you're a Neil Young fan, you'll know that the Marlon Brando track is inspired by Pocahontas.

The last song Blue happens to be one of the best R.E.M. closers ever; a close cousin to Country Feedback. On first listen it sounds like one of those songs that takes getting used to, but I loved it immediately. When Patti Smith's voice enters, it's like the voice of God (think back to E-Bow The Letter), and Stipe's avant-garde narration is equally spine-chilling. And before you know it, it segues back into the opening melody of Discoverer, as if urging you to 'seize the day'. Overall, this is a great album that brings me back to the golden age, when R.E.M. were one of the biggest bands in the world. It's a pity they won't be touring behind this though.