R.E.M. was once music’s beacon of creative cool, but expectations for the Athens, Georgia, rockers have trended downward since 1998’s Up. This decrease in artistic pressure hasn’t led to consistently compelling albums, however, just photoflashes of occasional brilliance. Happily, that’s all changed with Collapse Into Now, R.E.M.’s most alive-sounding record in years. Brisk tempos, focused songwriting and plenty of guitar noise make the album leap from the speakers. “All the Best” sounds like Technicolor Interpol, with the processing gloss coating Michael Stipe’s vocals and the minor-chord drone churning below the surface. Elsewhere, “That Someone Is You” and “Mine Smell Like Honey” marry the vibrant energy of 1984’s Reckoning with the white-hot buzzsaw of 1988’s Green. And the economical acoustic guitar and organ ticking through “Uberlin” conjure R.E.M.’s mid-’90s folk ruminations.
- Collapse into Now
- By R.E.M.
Yet Collapse doesn’t just attempt to recapture past glory; in fact, the band’s willingness to experiment is what’s most impressive here. “Alligator Aviator Autopilot,” which features Peaches and Lenny Kaye, plays like a barnstorming garage-glam hurricane, while “Walk It Back” is a somber, piano-heavy slow dance. Stipe’s vocals sound filtered through a megaphone on the twilight “Every Day Is Yours to Win,” as sparkly percussion and Mike Mills’ choirboy harmonies join a lazy, winding guitar melody on the bridge.
Mills is Collapse’s secret weapon. R.E.M. has always been at its best when the bassist chimes in vocally, and his harmonies on “It Happened Today” and “Honey” are lovely. It hasn’t been cool to like R.E.M. in years, and Collapse probably won’t persuade detractors to do so again. Their loss.