Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Album of the Week:
Accelerate / R.E.M.

For the early nineties, R.E.M. were my favorite band. From Out of Time through Reveal, I purchased everyone of their albums the week of their release - not to mention the occasional single and compilation. When the band released Around the Sun in 2004, I was inexplicably uninterested (and I don't think I was the only one). I was pretty resistant to all of the advanced buzz surrounding Accelerate, as I've never been one to buy into "Best album since... " talk. It seemed that critics reviewing the album seemed to forget that both Up and Reveal were well received albums. R.E.M. hadn't so much beaten themselves down with a string of disappointing albums, as much as they had made one boring one.

Despite my skepticism, I still opted to pick up a vinyl copy of Accelerate on Record Store Day. While I don't buy all of the hype, there is something different about R.E.M. this time around. Clocking in at around 30 minutes, Accelerate is a fast-paced record. Songs are short and ballads are at a minimum. The pace isn't just fast, its furious (no pun intended), with "Living Well is the Best Revenge" setting the tone. Avoiding the constrains of age, Michael Stipe has developed a bit of a punk rock snarl. While the band has been rather politically vocal during the Bush Administration but thankfully the album does not date itself with overt references the the current situation. There is a tone of frustration overcome through raw energy that captures the political feeling much better.

Elsewhere, the signs of life from R.E.M are all still there - the choruses are especially strong and Mike Mills's backing vocals/harmonies are still comforting. The album does seem to waiver a little bit at the end, and I kind of feel embarrassed for Stipe when he sings, "Because death is final/ I'm collecting vinyl/ I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world," on closer "I'm Gonna DJ." While Accelerate is not the forced "comeback" it's being marketed as, it is a sign that a band with nothing left to prove does still have something to offer.


Kevin said...

I'd file "I'm Gonna DJ" with songs like "Stand" and "Superman" under the heading "Goofs." They are fun songs with a devil-may-care attitude that defy a serious critic's ear. "DJ" thumbs its nose at mortality, prefering to dance rather than brood.

Will said...

Good point on the "Goofs," although perhaps some of my embarrassment stems from the fact that there is a difference between goofing in your 20s and goofing in your 40s.