First Look: New R.E.M. Album

Collapse Into Now, out March 8 on Warner Bros., finds
our heroes “shaking loose the head fuzz” of the recent past and even touching
upon – literally – their punk roots. Check out some preview music, below.

 

By A.D. Amorosi

 

That sinking feeling that
R.E.M. seem to be on about in their new album’s title doesn’t manifest itself
within their most sonically diverse body of work since 2001’s Reveal. Mind you, it’s not that this is
a positivist manifesto for the new decade. The now-ness is simply about shaking
loose the head fuzz that marked their last 15 years.

 

This R.E.M. sound present-or
at least as much as they did on 2008’s Accelerate.
When Stipe croons through the grungy ring of “All the Best” the line “it’s just
like me to overstay my welcome,” you’re not looking for something sarcastic to
say back to him. Stipe’s got a lot of shopworn platitudes and attitudes used as
lyrical motifs here: he’s “never felt so calm” (“Discoverer”) and he “earned
his wings” (“It Happened Today”). Luckily these are some of Collapse‘s brightest moments, the former
borrowing its crusty melody and guitars from PIL’s “Seattle” and the latter, one of the trio’s
chillier anthems.

 

The album is at its best on
the piano-driven “Walk It Back” and the raveup “Alligator Aviator Autopilot
Animator.” Both benefit from Patti Smith’s influence, the previous track a
Smith-attack on her Phil Spector period, the second actually featuring punk’s
godparents Patti and Lenny Kaye attacking their instruments and R.E.M.’s melody
like rabid dogs. (Eddie Vedder and Peaches also guest on the record.) While
most of its soft ballads are on the OK side, their finest moment is the
twinkling Velvets-like lullaby “Everyday is Yours to Win.”

 

Funny, that. I think R.E.M.
won this round, big time. Welcome home.

 

 


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