R.E.M.: Collapse Into Now

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Posted May 17, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0
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After a three year pause from the studio, R.E.M. returns to familiar sensibilities and tried-and-true alt-rock basics on eclectic new release

After recording an impressive set of albums since the 1980’s (fifteen in all) and now facing a sagging music industry, R.E.M. has a right to say “fuck it.” Instead, the legendary alt-rock band pours all of their present-day emotions/ideas and scrapbook sounds into a versatile set that quickly proves their just two steps away from delivering their best album to date. At times, Collapse Into Now appears to be messy as it chugs from one movement to the next. The tracks tend to float from melancholic rock (“Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I”) to bad-ass rock n’ roll (“Alligator_ Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter”) like an iTunes shuffle playlist rather than a congealed soundtrack, but that actually happens to be the album’s greatest quality. And when R.E.M. sneaks in something opaque and surreal, it leaves you nodding with approval.

Michael Stipe’s vocals are warm when it wants to be (“Überlin”), gritty and grimy when the music calls for it (“Discoverer”) and becomes fuller when he needs to be (“Walk It Back”). His woozy struts, alongside Peter Buck’s guitars and surprise guests (including Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith and Peaches) all help give the album an extra layer of texture that makes Collapse Into Now a lot more satisfying. “Discoverer” opens up the disc with call-to-arms percussion and loud guitar riffs, but slowly loses momentum when the simple chorus parades a tad bit longer than expected. After that, the album quickly redeems itself with big leaps through portals of cool experimentation, strong melodic infrastructures and well-calculated balladry. “Überlin” is sensationally breezy, “Smells Like Honey” kicks out R.E.M’s familiar rock tricks, “Walk It Back” strolls across intimate piano and guitar interplay and “Hey Ya” fees like a reprise of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” For the most part, R.E.M. never takes their selves too serious. The edges never get as sharp as “Losing My Religion” or “The One I Love,” but the talent executed here, even with Stipe’s woozy lead, showcases a band content with their age and maturity.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 7 March 2011
  • Label: Warner Bros.
  • Producers: Jacknife Lee, R.E.M.
  • Spin This: “Überlin,” “Walk It Back,” “Oh My Heart”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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