I didn’t like R.E.M. They were the band that likes shiny happy people, weren’t they? Then I discovered my mate Tony – whose music tastes I rated extremely highly – was a huge fan. But it didn’t make me listen to them, not really. Tony used to play their albums to me and I wanted to not like them, some of the tracks were good, but I didn’t love them.
In those days we had an unspoken rule that if any of our gig-going friends (and there was more than just us two) wanted to see a band then all of us should go. It was a fantastic time which allowed us to experience so much more music and broaden our tastes in a positive way. Due to this I saw R.E.M. live with Tony. It was the first time either of us had seen them, and whilst he enjoyed it, he was disappointed. I thought they were amazing, and it was from there my real love of R.E.M. stemmed.
2011 sees the release of their 15th album Collapse Into Now, a more diverse collection of songs than its predecessor Accelerate; an album which personally I didn’t like. Opening track ‘Discoverer’ is upbeat and has trademark Michael Stipe almost-spoken singing throughout alongside a lovely guitar riff from Peter Buck.
A few tracks in you reach ‘Überlin’ which is the first real standout track. It sounds very much like the R.E.M. I know and love, with acoustic guitars and electric band playing in harmony. The song wouldn’t be out-of-place in the underrated and fantastic Around The Sun album, or indeed from something earlier in their career. A real return to form. ‘Oh My Heart’ continues this feel perfectly, with Stipe sounding close to breaking as he sings the melody.
The following tracks continue the return to form, producing a fantastic balance of rock ballads and out-and-out rockers. Piano-driven ‘Walk It Back’ is classic R.E.M. and worth the purchase price on its own. There are a few collaborations with other vocalists on the album. ‘It Happened Today’ features Eddie Vedder, and upbeat ‘Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’ has Peaches alongside. Album close ‘Blue’, a track with psychedelic and ambient tones complete with dream-like narration from Michael includes a more regular vocal with Patti Smith.
In my view this is the best album R.E.M. have produced since the Monster-era. I thought they were on the slide, with greater years between each release, but Collapse Into Now shows they still very much have something to say. Shame they aren’t going to tour the album.
Add to playlist: Discoverer, Überlin, It Happened Today, Walk It Back
Amazon link : Collapse Into Now