r.e.m. reborn

rem-accelerate-coverSo I realize that I’m about 18 months late in reviewing this album, but I only acquired it myself a few months ago; it’s so damn good, but I fear that so many don’t know how good it is.

If you’re a longtime R.E.M. fan like me, then chances are you have been pretty disappointed with everything they’ve released since drummer Bill Berry left the band in 1996.  Their sound took a leisurely, tired turn toward easy listening during the late ‘90s and for most of the 2000’s – very light, airy, slow songs with none of the rock attitude or even political passion that thrust the band into superstardom in the 80’s.  I understand a band wanting to try new things, change their sound a bit – R.E.M. has been around well over 25 years now – but the direction they went in left us die-hard fans disillusioned and bored.

So when “Accelerate” was released in early 2008, in spite of the reviews saying it was their “comeback” and that they reclaimed their rock n’ roll sound, I was extremely skeptical and disinterested, and didn’t even bother listening to any of it until a few months ago.  Big, stupid mistake on my part.  The band did not only reawaken its rock sound, they managed to create one of their best albums ever.

Try not to bang your head along with the opening track “Living Well is the Best Revenge.”  Go ahead, try it – I did, and I failed.  You can hear singer Michael Stipe’s enthusiasm rekindled, Peter Buck’s distorted guitar has been de-cobwebbed, their drummer Bill Rieflin – well, let’s just say the fact that there is a drummer is an improvement, and best of all, the return of one of the best backing vocalists ever, Mike Mills.  He belts out his accompaniments with as much force and style as ever, something that was truly lacking on their last few releases.

There are no bad songs on this album – there aren’t even any not-so-great songs on this album.  “Living Well…,” “Man Sized Wreath,” “Supernatural Superserious,” and “Horse to Water” are instant classics – they put an end to the question I’d ask myself every time I heard an R.E.M. song post-Bill Berry: “Remember when R.E.M. used to rock?”

With “Houston” and “Sing for the Submarine” we see the band’s darker side revealed once again, like way back when on classics like “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” and “I Remember California.”

R.E.M. could always be counted on for pure, sweet melodies, harkening back to their southern roots and their early college radio success, and this is represented in “Until the Day is Done,” a somber number reminiscent of their fantastic “Automatic for the People” album.

One of the greatest things about R.E.M. is that each of their albums stands on its own – none sound alike.  And that tradition continues here with “Accelerate.”  So to say that this album will be a pleasant surprise for R.E.M. fans who fell out-of-love with the band after “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” would be a major understatement.  And for the casual R.E.M. fan, this is just a great rock album.

Accelerate gets 4.5 out of 5 stars

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