R.E.M. – Accelerate

Accelerate (2008)

B+

1. Living Well Is The Best Revenge 2. Man-Sized Wreath 3. Supernatural Superserious 4. Hollow Man 5. Houston 6. Accelerate 7. Until The Day Is Done 8. Mr. Richards 9. Sing For The Submarine 10. Horse To Water 11. I’m Gonna DJ

 

The REM renaissance (or “REMaissance”) finally arrives at the last possible moment, just before they might’ve shriveled up and died in a pool of their own impotent disgrace (which resembles pee. Not a lot of people know that. Disgrace=pee). See, after he apparently fell into a coma and was replaced by an anatomically identical pod person for 10 years, Peter Buck finally awoke and surveyed the landscape with horror. Upon his ghastly realization of what REM had become, he reconvened with his old pals Mike and Mike (Michael) and informed them politely but firmly that it probably wasn’t the best idea to write a bunch of pussy sub-James Taylor crap or fey Brian Wilson rip offs and then spend nine months in the studio beating all the life out of them. Then he suggested that his fellow remaining Remmers try to think waaaaaaaay back to the 80’s and 90’s when they used to be a really creative, awesome guitar band and see if they could maybe attempt to recapture that whole thing. At this, Mills and Stipe simply shook their heads in bafflement, not a clue between them about what on earth he was referring to. So he punched them both in the face, whipped out his trusty Rickenbacker, which had long been collecting dust in the corner, started playing the wicked surging arpeggiated riff to “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” and, darn it all… it all came flooding back.

In all seriousness, Accelerate represents a legitimately melodic, rocking and fun return to overall goodness for REM. Finally realizing they had completely run out of new ideas (a few years too late, but whatever, I’ll take it), the band decided to take a trip down memory lane and remind themselves of what made them great in the first place. Now, baldly rehashing past glories is as poor a record-making formula for a veteran band as any, but that’s not really what REM did here. They just took some very basic steps backwards, in the process propelling themselves forward… like, for instance, having a bunch of distinctly “Peter Buck” riffs played on fuzzy energetic guitars in manner reminiscent of, say, Document or Lifes Rich Pageant. Or a bunch of Mike Mills backing vocals, for another example. And since we haven’t heard that sort of thing from them in such a long time and it’s executed so well that instead of saying, “Hey! Rehash!” we say, “Why the fuck did they ever stop sounding like this?”

Besides, as they recapture their youth, they stop short of trying to write “Finest Worksong 2: An Even Finer Worksong” or anything like that (that would come on the next album). These compositions may be crunchy, energetic folk rock songs a la the REM of old (or at least whenever the REM of old decided to actually be energetic), but they are new compositions – with memorable melodies, catchy riffs, and even a dash of youthful vigor if you can believe that! They recreate the spirit of golden era REM without sounding particularly retro or behind the times – Accelerate fits very snugly within the garage rock revivalism of the twenty aughts. Maybe that’s only because REM’s influence is so heavy on rock music today in the first place, and by sounding like themselves REM begin to sound like younger bands trying to sound like REM… but I feel as though this album is more applicable to the here and now of its time of release than anything they’ve done since, I suppose, Automatic For The People.

They certainly issue a hell of a “We’re back!” statement with the opener “Living Well Is The Best Revenge,” which is one of the most savage rock tunes they’ve done… EVER. Of course, “savage” for REM is a subjective term, but it sure as hell rocks. “The future is ours and you don’t even rate a footnote!” Stipe roars with a fiery indignation, a passion we haven’t heard from him in ages – it might actually cause George Bush to recoil were he to hear it, whereas were he to hear something like “Final Straw” it would probably just cause him to snicker like an asshole and wonder why in the world he was listening to such a boring song. The rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to that promise (though the furious “Horse To Water” come close), but the remaining songs are still the most well-written and consistently catchy that they’d put out in over a decade. The album is limited in scope, sure – mostly 3-minute garagey guitar-led blasts, as if the only way they could save themselves from further infamy was to tighten their focus as much as possible and just bash their way out of hell. But I do sense some variation in the songwriting, just like the good old days, and they cover all bases well. Sure, you’ve got your adrenaline-fueled crash-bang-boomers like “Horse To Water” and “Man-Sized Wreath,” but they sit right next to poppy alt-rockers of the sort that REM used to be able to write in their sleep (singles “Supernatural Superserious” and “Hollow Man,” which are perhaps a bit more generic than we were used to hearing from these guys back in the day, but generic within a decent music paradigm is better than the monstrosities they’d been foisting upon us recently, especially when the songs are as catchy as they are). The acoustic pieces are done well too – the Green-folky “Until The Day Is Done” and the haunting post-Katrina rumination “Houston” (that buzzing organ tone is cool as shit!). There are even a couple of things that I don’t recall hearing anything like from REM before – like the vaguely psychedelic-influenced “Mr. Richards,” with its heavy guitars and hooky 60’s melody.

Although most of the songs aren’t quite clear returns to their former brilliance, just about everything is tough, quick, fun and catchy, which means there isn’t a single song here that makes me cringe from pretention or dorkiness, or make me question the higher brain function of its composers (OK, “I’m Gonna DJ” is pretty dopey. But it’s only two minutes long and doesn’t take itself seriously!). And that’s something that sets it apart from, oh, ALMOST EVERY REM ALBUM EVER. Besides, it’s over in 35 minutes, it’s fun to sing along to, and it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. Dig it. REM are finally back.