I'm dating myself by admitting this, but I can remember coming home, in 1988, from high school and waiting for MTV to play 'Orange Crush', the first single off R.E.M.'s landmark 'Green' album. 'Automatic For The People' was the soundtrack of my solitary year at Olivet College. And 'Monster', that orange covered disaster, still yielded the singles necessary for me to navigate the end of my tenure at Western Michigan University. Particularly, 'Bang and Blame'.
Has any other band blown as far off course as R.E.M.? Beginning with 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi and complicated with Bill Berry's departure, REM has repeatedly and miserably failed to capture the guitar driven appeal of their middle eighties, early nineties catalog. Although unlikely gems such as 'All The Way To Reno' off 2001's curiously cohesive, yet nearly unlistenable, 'Reveal' album, have occasionally bubbled to the surface, R.E.M.'s output from the 'Hi-Fi' forward has been 75% awful. Mindless babble issued by three men who feel like they should continue making records, because . . . otherwise one of them has to venture into the kitchen and actually wash the goddamn dishes. And that reason, frankly, has not been good enough to justify a one mediocre, uninspired effort after the other.
That all changes with 'Collapse Into Now', REM's fifteenth album. This R.E.M. will remind you of the Obama administration if the President actually grabbed a chainsaw and stormed Congress while shouting 'The HELL if we're going to take this shit anymore!' I hesitate to overuse the phrase 'return to form', but it's startlingly appropriate. Instead of trying to write an album of songs faithful to one particular muse, 'Collapse' acts as a sort of relationship time machine returning us to the bygone eras of 1987 and 1991. On songs like 'Mine Smell Like Honey' there are faint flourishes of the I.R.S. Label punkish/new wave R.E.M., before Warner Brothers and history-making record contracts, who hailed from a dream town known as mandolin, Georgia. Yet, with the same stubborn authenticity, they turn and rattle off machine gun, punk influenced, tracks like 'It's The End of the world as we know it'. Yes, the band who attempted to relate the suffering of the human experience with the1993, 'everyone out of your cars, because we are all going to walk the horrible highway of life together', anthem 'Everybody Hurts'. The pop radio allure of Losing My Religion, before it became the most overplayed radio track of 1991. All of the bright spots, but with a guitar heavy kick that speaks volumes.
Collapse's triumph is that, after all these years, REM has succeeded in forging an album that reminds us, in bits and pieces, of their finest moments.
The first chords of Discoverer indicate, the band was determined to come out swinging. Against disappointed critics, turncoat fans, and father time. The track hesitates for the briefest instance before Stipe howls 'Discovererrrrr'. Suddenly it's November, 1988, and you're back at that frat party, where you heard 'Turn You Inside Out' for the first time. 'It Happened Today', is the first great success on the album, with a chorus that will remind you of sitting in the fourth row when the 'Monster Tour' came to the Palace of Auburn Hills. It ends with Stipe singing along with a simple ahhhhhhhhh ahh ahh chorus, but that chorus is full of bittersweet nineties memories.
I say, congratulations are in order. This is a band back from the brink. Regardless of whether the public will ever again recognize R.E.M. as the shining beacon of alternative music, their place in rock history is secure. More importantly, they have redeemed the twilight years of their career with a determined, brilliant record.
for the DRB
for the DRB