Friday, November 24, 2023

REM #15: Collapse Into Now


Release Date: March 7, 2011

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Mike Mills (bass, keyboards)

Produced by Jackknife Lee & REM

Track Listing: Discoverer; All the Best; Uberlin; Oh My Heart; It Happened Today; Everyday is Yours to Win; Mine Smell Like Honey; Walk it Back; Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter; That Someone is You; Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I; Blue

Collapse Into Now was pre-determined to be the final REM record, in a mutual decision to disband. The album features a variety of tracks calling back to different eras of the group's history, often referencing older songs. There's also a sense of time passing, the lingering message throughout is one for posterity, many of the songs are addressed to "the kids." 

"Discoverer" recalls the more muscular sound of Monster from 1994, and the sentiment going back to Murmur's opening track "Radio Free Europe." The power pop of "All the Best" has a one more for the road vibe, "it's just like me to overstay my welcome." "Uberlin" offers fantastical daydreams with neo-psychedelia sound.

"Oh My Heart" is one of REM's most poignant songs, told from the viewpoint of someone returning to New Orleans amidst the devastation left by the storm. "It Happened Today" is baroque pop, commenting on the nature of interpretation. "Everyday is Yours to Win" offers a compassionate message to someone in despair at the state of the world - evoking a lullaby. 

"Mine Smell Like Honey" offers subtle sarcasm on ego, "Walk it Back" is piano driven and a meditation on time passing."Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter" is punkish and juvenile by design. "That Someone Is You" is guitar driven, mocking a sophomoric rant by an adolescent. "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I" muses on celebrity and cultural obsessions. The final REM track "Blue" features Stipe giving a spoken word poem, with Patti Smith providing back-up vocals, always a influence on the band since the beginning, then the fadeout goes into a reprise of "Discoverer."

Collapse Into Now is a fitting farewell. REM began as a fledgling college band in Athens, Georgia and climbed their way up from a cult band to mainstream success. Through it all, they stayed true to progressive ideals and avoided becoming the walking cliché so many rock bands become. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

REM #14: Accelerate

Release Date: March 31, 2008

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Mike Mills (bass, keyboards)

Produced by Jackknife Lee & REM

Track Listing: Living Well is the Best Revenge; Man-Sized Wreath; Supernatural Superserious; Hollow Man; Houston; Accelerate; Until the Day is Done; Mr. Richards; Sing for the Submarine; Horse to Water; I'm Gonna DJ

Accelerate marked a return to guitar driven rock for REM in what would be their penultimate LP.

A punk infused opener, "Living Well is the Best Revenge" also has a politically charged bent, "Man-Sized Wreath" continues in a similar vein, a song full of swagger mocking the idea of swagger and the political rhetoric of the post 9/11 era. "Supernatural Superserious" swerves into pure power pop mode, an observational look at American youth. "Hollow Man" may reference the T.S. Eliot poem "The Hollow Men", which envisioned futuristic men as violent and empty, but the REM song pushes against the sentiment. "Houston" offers subtle commentary on post-Hurricane Katrina climate in America, "if the storm doesn't kill me the government will." "Accelerate" is a moody rocker with a positive energy. "Until the Day is Done" throws scathing commentary at Big Business and all it represents in 21st Century America, especially timely in that it was written just before the 2008 crash. "Mr. Richards" satirizes a certain type of "W" era warmonger, preaching the merits of an aggressive foreign policy to callow youths. "Sing for the Submarine" is a surreal interlude, Stipe in perfect form delivering a dream soliloquy. "Horse to Water" is punk poetry, "I'm Gonna DJ" ends the record on a defiant and jubilant note. 

Accelerate was well received. The smooth production often masks the incisive political commentary, adding more depth to the record on repeated listens. At 34 minutes, it's also the shortest REM record. They undoubtedly sounded rejuvenated, a band still with something to prove. Not a classic by any means, but certainly a late career triumph. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

REM #13: Around the Sun

Release Date: October 5, 2004

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Mike Mills (bass, keyboards)

Additional Musicians: Scott McCaughey (keyboards, percussion); Ken Stringfellow (keyboards); Q-Tip (rapping on "The Outsiders); Bill Rieflin (Percussion); 

Produced by Pat McCarthy & REM

Track Listing: Leaving New York; Electron Blue; The Outsiders; Make It All Okay; Final Straw; I Wanted To Be Wrong; Wanderlust; Boy in the Well; Aftermath; High Speed Train; The Worst Joke Ever; The Ascent of Man; Around the Sun

"Leaving New York" opens Around the Sun, a poignant ode to New York City with melancholy post-9/11 subtext. Lyrically, the song speaks to the leaving the city and the end of a friendship. The electronica fused "Electron Blue" remains a favorite of Michael Stipes he described as a futuristic song that came to him in a dream. "The Outsiders" begins as a synth-pop song and ends Q-Tip providing a rap as a coda, which speaks to the political frustrations and inertia of the Bush era. "Make It All Okay" continues on in a similar vein speaking to miscommunication in a fraught relationship. 

"Final Straw" was written as a protest song about the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, but avoids topical references in favor of an oblique Socratic dialogue. Cultural and political disillusionment are expressed a bit more forcefully on "I Wanted to Be Wrong, Stipe sings "everyone is humming a song I don't understand." 

"Wanderlust" lightens the mood, with Stipe inhabiting a poetic wanderer in modern America, possibly imagining a reincarnated Kerouac. "Boy in the Well" conjures early REM with its minimal production and flickering Americana. "Aftermath" offers hope through gaining self-knowledge, REM at their stateliest. Atmospheric and moody, "High Speed Train" may actually work better if seeing it performed live. "The Worst Joke Ever" speaks to creativity and malaise. "The Ascent of Man" injects some much needed soul to counter the overcast mood of the record. "Around the Sun" ends the record on an upbeat note, promising to keep seeking for the answers as long as the world's still going. 

The album cover art features REM as fading shadows - and that suits Around the Sun. All members admitted to being bored and frustrated during the making of the record, sales were moderate, while reviews were tepid. The post 9/11 world, especially for idealists and Progressives, brought on disillusionment, and here REM flirts with succumbing to it, but not quite. The record can be read as a warm hug to their fans, pointing the way through introspection. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #2: You're Gonna Get It

Release Date: May 2, 1978 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass); Stan...