Posts Tagged ‘mike mills


R.E.M. – Closing shop after 30 years

 I guess I’m really behind the latest breaking music news; I just stumbled upon the announcment that REM has officially decided to disband and retire after 30 amazing years of making music!  It’s bummer in so many ways; for me personally, it’s a day of mourning and having to admit that the years have passed so quickly since attending high school in the 1980’s.  I recall one of my first real independent purchases was a CD: REM’s “Life’s Rich Pagaent” in 1986.  I purchased it at a store long gone called Record Town, and at that time 80%of the store was actual records and cassettes and 20% the “new” technology called the Compact Disc, yikes!  I’m so old that floppy discs were actually…well…”floppy”!

At that time I was a sophomore in high school trying to figure out quality music in the plethora of one-hit wonders and trashy glam rock bands.  Looking back now, there is just so much of my life, places I had been, and people I use to know; it all comes rushing back when I hear songs by REM.

Naturally I’ve always been partial to their earlier work rather than their later material in the late 90’s and 2000’s.  I think the last album I bought was “Automatic For The People” in 1992; and then fell out following them for nearly two decades!  I guess I felt that the band headed in a direction at that time where I simply wasn’t feeling what they were putting out on a consistent basis; like to friends with interests no longer in common it was time to move on.  As fate would have it though, it wasn’t until last year that I became reaquainted with REM through my fellow HiFi reviewer ericstraus; he was kind enough to hook me up with the bands entire discography and I’m eternally grateful.  It was a nice to reunite with their past albums and discover some of their newer material. Their later music has been an evolution up peaks and valley’s, never seeming to recapture their early sound and that is ok.  Clearly, whether you like their later material or not, they  development as a band and headed in a direction that they felt was right for them.  I can only imagine playing the same songs for 30 years and waining for a change in style or direction at some point, clearly REM took every random moment of inspiration and followed it wherever it took them. 

The best thing about getting re-aquainted with REM has been listening to them in the car with my 4-year old son Jacob.  He has a thing for their “Green” album and specifically their big hit “Orange Crush”; me too.  My personal favorite on that album is “Remember California”, just such rich tones and smart lyrics and again, just so classic REM.  It’s a sad day for music but clearly a well deserved retirement for a band that has contributed so much to the genre, and perhaps more profound: peoples lives. 

There is a nice article in The Washington Post about their decision to retire, read more by clicking here.

We look forward to the reunion concert already!


Album Review: R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

Following R.E.M.’s 2008 release Accelerate, a comeback album of sorts for the Athens, GA band, the anticipation was very high for their 15th album Collapse Into Now. Accelerate showcased R.E.M.’s return to a real rock sound. The period following drummer Bill Berry’s departure from the band in 1996 saw them move in a new direction, creating more atmospheric music than rock, and for many fans it was a real turn-off. But with Peter Buck’s distorted guitar roaring back to life, along with the return of Mike Mills’ passionate backing vocals, Accelerate vaulted R.E.M. back into the rock arena. Collapse Into Now, however, could be called a disappointment. There are some good songs, some not so good – it’s an inconsistent album, and unfortunately probably seems a little worse than it is because of how great its predecessor was.
The album gets off to a good start with “Discoverer” – it has a cool bass drum beat that tells you the band’s pulse is running smooth, and the chorus is reminiscent of the power chords on Accelerate. “All the Best” follows, another rockin’ track. Then Buck puts the distortion pedal in the closet for a while and switches to an acoustic guitar for “Uberlin.” It’s a mellower tune that features fantastic vocal harmonies from Mills and Michael Stipe, which was great to hear. The haunting “Oh My Heart” is another mellow song, but Stipe’s impassioned gospel-like vocals work quite well. The song’s chords are very similar to Accelerate’s “Houston,” and the lyrics make reference to that song as well: “Houston,” referencing the Bush administration’s handling of natural disasters like Katrina, contains the line “If the storm doesn’t kill me, the government will,” and “Oh My Heart” gives us the update of “The storm didn’t kill me, the government…changed.” I had high hopes for the song “It Happened Today” when I saw that Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam fame) provided vocals on the track. But the song is little more than a hippie-style sing-a-long, with Vedder’s talents being quite under-utilized as he just moans along with Mills’ “la-la-la-la” vocals. The oddly-titled “Mine Smell Like Honey” brings back a more up-tempo beat, but the forcefulness is missing – it feels like watered-down R.E.M. rock, compared to the first two tracks and, as I can’t seem to stop mentioning, the Accelerate album. And then “Walk it Back” slows everything down again. It’s a pretty song, melodic and soft on the ears, but it harkens back to Up and the band’s more “adult contemporary” sound of the late 90’s and early to mid 2000’s. “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is a good song, punctuated by the guest vocals of Peaches, a Canadian oddball rocker of sorts. I had never heard any of Peaches’ music before, but it’s her vocals that make this track so interesting. The song takes on a punk feel as her raw, fervent voice compliments the distorted guitar and quick tempo. “That Someone is You” is another upbeat tune, but clocking in at a mere 1 minute 45 seconds, it never really gets a chance to develop. The album slows down again with “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I,” again taking on the feel of those post-Berry, pre-Accelerate albums. The record closes with “Blue,” another slower tune, but it’s the album’s most texturally interesting track. Stipe’s spoken-word lyrics mesh with Buck’s reverberated guitar while guest vocalist Patti Smith (who also appeared on R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi album) bellows along. And then, inexplicably, the song closes with a brief reprise of the “Discoverer” chorus. If the idea was that the album has come full-circle, there’s nothing to really make that connection, and that reprise just seems out of place.
A couple of other observations – Stipe’s vocals, on every track, have a slight echo to them, like his vocals were recorded in a bathroom or a freeway underpass or something. While this effect works well on tracks like “Oh My Heart” and “Walk it Back,” it detracts from the powerful energy that should be present in the fast-tempo tracks. The other negative aspect of the album is one of the same criticisms the band received during the late 90’s to mid 2000’s – the lack of Mills’ backing vocals. Well-utilized on Accelerate, Mills’ fantastic voice is only recognizable on a couple of tracks, and even then we don’t hear the same passion we’re used to.
So while many of the tunes have a lot of what is good about R.E.M., the album overall is an inconsistent blend of rock and soft rock. Taken as individual songs, most of the album succeeds – but in the context of an entire piece of work, it sounds like the band is falling back on old habits instead of plowing ahead.
Collapse Into Now gets 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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