4 Oct 2009, 16:35
I wrote this review on musicbanter. Check out the original thread here:
- Living Well Is the Best Revenge
- Man Sized Wreath
- Supernatural Superserious
- Hollow Man
- Until the Day Is Done
- Sing for the Submarine
- Horse to Water
- I'm Gonna DJ
The fourteenth album by the Athens G.A. alternative rock group R.E.M. is somewhat of an enigma. Their first album since the commercial and largely critical failure that was Around the Sun in 2004, Accelerate is, as a whole, stylistically different from anything they have made since 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Despite what the album's title may suggest, the material here is not particularly forward thinking musically, though it does lyrically call for a sort of metaphorical "acceleration" in the United States particularly. Instead, where Up was melancholic balladry, Reveal was an effort at creating an R.E.M. version of U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind, and Around the Sun was... more melancholic balladry, Accelerate feels almost like a sort of fresh piece of garage-rock revival, a la The Strokes. For the first time since the early nineties, Michael Stipe doesn't sound like he's 50 years old. And, for the first time since the late 80s (!!!), I don't picture Michael Stipe singing these songs with his blue makeup and three piece pinstripe suit.
The album opener, entitled Living Well Is the Best Revenge effectively dismisses whatever taste was left in the mouth of a listener to any recent R.E.M. music. After "Living Well", no track on the album ever gets as poignantly raw or lyrically biting as it was. As a plus, it features bassist Mike Mills on backing vocals for the first time since 1996, and shows just how important his vocal presence was.
You savour your dying breath
Well, I forgive but I don't forget
You work it out, let's hear that argument again
Camera three... Go... Now!
Man Sized Wreath is a song in the same vein, and doesn't offer much else, but is fortunately followed by the lead single, Supernatural Superserious. And wow, what a song. From the perspective of someone who's followed R.E.M. for a long time, this song really makes me do a double take to make sure this isn't Monster or New Adventures in Hi-Fi that I'm listening to. Peter Buck lays down more straight up power chords on this track than he has in his entire career. This is certainly not a return to the jangly sound of R.E.M.'s 80's work as some critics have praised, but it is a fresh sound from R.E.M.'s mid nineties stadium rock days, a sound which has been all but forgotten with their past three albums.
Ironically, the next track, Hollow Man, would fit right in on Reveal, and with it's bare piano verse and soft guitar-led chorus, seems very out of place when surrounded by the heavy Supernatural Superserious and the dark Houston, a song about life Post-Katrina: (If the Storm doesn't kill me the Government will). Because of this great difference in style, Hollow Man could have ruined the album. But, because it's actually a pretty great tune, it somehow works.
R.E.M.'s first title track ever comes along right after that. Essentially a straightforward rock song, it is led by a fantastically distorted guitar riff from Peter Buck, that which will stick in your head for hours afterwards. The lyrics are dark, yet as the name suggests, forward thinking and political. It is followed by the equally dark and political song Until the Day is Done, which features a haunting acoustic riff, plus Michael's best vocal performance on the album. This sets the pace for the next two songs, Mr. Richards and Sing for the Submarine, the former of which may be the most outright and radically leftist song in the R.E.M. catalogue. Gone are the days in which Stipe would postulate his political ideals through abstract pieces like Fall on Me from Lifes Rich Pageant [sic] it seems. I guess that's his idea of forward thinking.
Anyway, Sing for the Submarine is a great track for big R.E.M. fans, as it quotes the titles of many R.E.M. songs as it gradually progresses. Stipe's most haunting lyrics on the album appear here.
The city did not collapse in a shudder
The rain it never came
At least my confessions made you laugh
I know it's a little crazed
But these dreams...
they seem so real to me
The next and final tracks are easily the worst on the album, providing little with Horse to Water, and absolutely nothing with I'm Gonna DJ, the latter of which is totally a throwaway song that should have been replaced with one of the songs created during the Accelerate sessions. Unfortunately, because of the albums very short length, these two songs take up a large enough percent of the album that they really detract from its quality.
All in all, Accelerate is a quick listen, over in a flash, with some very memorable moments throughout. It seems that it was created less to be a really good album, and more to prove a point that R.E.M. could still produce heavier songs even without former drummer Bill Berry.
Must buy tracks: Living Well is the Best Revenge, Supernatural Superserious, Houston.
TL;DR: Get it if you like R.E.M.'s material from the mid-90s, or if you like garage rock revival style music.