Monday, 7 March 2011

REM - Collapse Into Now

REM's Collapse Into Now is out today in the UK and continues what has become a well-honed format for the group, whose success shows no signs of waning as the years go by. Under the stewardship of Michael Stipe, the REM sound machine has really carved its style in stone, with increasingly guitar-led compositions and lyrical points of inflexion that show why fans have stuck with the group for an impressive 15 studio albums.

With a couple of exceptions - lyrics that just repeat the song title, and the horrendous Mine Smell Like Honey (which consists in parts solely of its own title followed by tuneless "uh" sounds) - Collapse Into Now is what you'd expect from REM. Distinctive Stipe vocals, complex layered guitar accompaniment and a careful counterpointing of a fairly laid-back style with high-energy, fast-tempo tracks.

High Points

I was most looking forward to Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I, based purely on its title. It's probably one of the more careful, balanced compositions on Collapse Into Now, with a slightly melancholy tone and much more clarity to the different guitar parts.

Blue is a further example of the album's more distinctive elements, led primarily by a spoken-word backing vocal which adds a useful layer of complexity in place of the usual duelling-banjo style guitars. It's another good reminder of the kind of song-writing that made REM a success in the first place, and a real high point of their latest effort.

The Verdict

I've seen - and heard - music's dominant motifs change over the past couple of decades, from the early 1990s when I first heard REM through the hopeful Millennium period, the all-too-soon harsh reality of September 11th 2001 and the recent years of 'real' music versus The X Factor and American Idol.

The reason I'm saying that is because REM, to me, still sound pretty much the same as in the early 90s. Sure, some of what they do is still new, but a lot of it could easily be 20 years old. If they were having mediocre or even moderate success, it would seem reasonable. But to still be at the very top of the industry after so long seems more testament to the tenacity of their fans than their ability to change - compared with, say Kylie and Madonna's changing musical sounds since the 1980s.

Having said that, there's not a great deal to actively dislike about most of the tracks on Collapse Into Now - they are, as always, decently structured and fluidly (if repetitively) lyricked. My personal recommendation would be to download the album track by track and save yourself the torture of having to hear Mine Smell Like Honey, the only song of the lot that seems entirely devoid of merit. As for the rest, if you're an REM fan, you can't go far wrong here.

Final Score: 71%

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