Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Review: R.E.M. Accelerate
Kick it out on the dancefloor like you just don't care!
After spending an inordinate amount of time writing some sub-Meltzer piece about how Accelerate is the perfect mid-life crisis album reflecting how time speeds up as one's metabolism slows down I decided not to inflict such weirdness on the world.
Supranational history lesson:
1984/85 discovered this hot combo from Athens, GA by way of magazines, David Letterman, and Jason & The Scorchers (Stipe gets co-write and sings back-up vocals on "Hot Nights From Georgia")
1986/87 made a pilgrimmage to Athens, GA went to both Wuxtry's (bought Boomtown Rats Mercury debut, Police Outlandos D'Amour, and a Pandoras record), bought any and everything with the name R.E.M. emblazoned across it, and saw them in concert. Started having some doubts when Document didn't do much for me.
1988/90 didn't purchase Green, didn't go see them play Murphy Center, but lots of high school and junior high kids did because I saw them when I'd go skateboarding
1991 bought Out Of Time after hearing "Radio Song" in a Sound Shop, brought it home and found it dull, and after R.E.M. swept the MTV Music Video Awards I began a long loathing of Stipe.
1992 - 2006 still listened to older stuff and liked "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", wrote a piece about how I once loved the band, but it got to the point I became so disenchated with the band that I couldn't even bear to listen to Murmur and I sold all of my R.E.M. vinyl, the only thing I kept was a couple of cassette bootlegs from the Tyrone's days
2007 tuned into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame awards ceremony mainly to see how Bill Berry was doing and like all televison show ads claim now: It All Changed - the moment they launched into "Gardening At Night" I forgot all my former hate and just remembered all the joy they had once given. I went to Amazon soon after and bought all of their old great albums and then I picked up the later stuff in the bargain bins.
Which brings us to 2008 and Accelerate. It's heralded as a return to rock. A retreat from the blandness and lack of focus that had afflicted the three legged dog from Athens, GA. If you've read to this point you're either about ready to put me up against the wall and scream "Well, is it?!!" at me or perhaps smirk and say "I know it's not. Lots of other blogs have already told me so." I'm hip to this jive.
So let's first address focus. The album clocks in at 34 minutes and 39 seconds. With 11 tracks there's not much room for meandering. The album is succinct, to the point, brief, curt, and as many other adjectives you want to throw in there. I appreciate this. Just because you can pack 80 minutes onto a CD doesn't mean you should. Too many bands today suffer from bloated albums that you can't listen to in one sitting anyways. Hence the IPOD shuffle supremacy. So focus is confirmed.
Is Accelerate bland? That's a big negatory good buddy. While the album does tend to blur somewhat with such buzzing guitars that haven't been heard since New Adventures In Hi-Fi, there is enough sonic variety to tickle the eardrums especially if you've got your earbuds in place. It sounds like real people playing musical instruments this time. Gone are the sub-lounge singer keyboards. Stipe's voice may have lost range, but he sounds impassioned. Isn't passion one of the ingredients needed for good rock and roll.
Which is what Accelerate does. It rocks. And I didn't expect it to. Just because I had found my long shelved love for the band didn't mean I would accept whatever they did. I'm a big fan of Bill Berry and his contributions to the band. Plus, I still remember things like them saying they would break up at the stroke of midnight of the year 2000. It was a coming to terms over those types of issues that let me love the music again. So I wasn't sure if I would like the new material, but I do.
Accelerate is a solid album. Something they should be proud to put their name behind. Will junior high school kids want to go see them in concert (if they could afford to) - who knows. Not only are all the fans from the Murmur era, from the Document era, or the Automatic For The People era different so is the music industry. There's no way R.E.M. can ever reach the highs of the past. Their own success acts like an anchor. The impulse is to say how this album stacks up in the catalogue. I think this wrong to a certain extent.
Shouldn't we let some time go by before making grand assessments like: is Accelerate as good as Document? Hell, I don't know. I barely liked Document during the 80's. That album had to grow on me. How about Life's Rich Pageant? How does Accelerate stack up against it? Man, it was such a completely different world when Pageant dropped....weren't R.E.M. already being accused of being sellouts. Let time decide such comparisons. For now; I'll just dig Accelerate. The three legged dog has finally learned how to run.
Now if you want to read what I think is the best review of Accelerate I've found (and the main reason I didn't do any song analysis since it's here) check out Annie Zaleski's one at Riverfront Times.