R.E.M. – Collapse into now
The skinny: Still a trio, still making consistently good music.
The review proper: Nah, sorry, I’m biased. I’m still a fanboy.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, there are old tricks peddled here, but there are some bits that make them sound completely different.
‘Discoverer’ opens the album in a very rocky manner, with Peter Buck’s lovely guitar being playful, and the rhythm building up. This is followed by ‘All the best’, again, rocky but now the mix seems to be focusing quite a lot on Mike Mills’ bass skills, and I for one am happy for it. Both these songs are supercatchy and probably they are a good hook to lull you into some sense of security.
That lull comes with a curveball. ‘Überlin’ is the sound of Peter Buck vacuuming the old mandolin and taking it for a good whirl. Michael Stipe’s voice, another instrument in the other songs, shines beautifully in this calm number, with its chilling organ in the back and the leisurely paced drumming. ‘Oh my heart’ follows suit, but even more slowly, with that sinking feeling that colours are fading and its all turning into a black and white photograph. Yes, again Stipe’s voice is great in here.
Fear, the mood is not in a shade of grey (gray!) for long, as ‘It happened today’ gains some momentum. Still slowly, but surely, preparing you for the final bit, where it finally soars with a very triumphant finale.
The dreamy lullaby that is ‘Everyday is yours to win’ is shoved out of the way by ‘Mine smell like honey’. Stipe’s voice is defocused now, moving into the background a bit until the catchy chorus, pairing Stipe and Mills’ voices, terrific combination that, personally, is my favourite thing in any R.E.M. album.
‘Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’ is another little rocker, with the constant beat and a certain Peaches contributing a bit in vocals for this quick number. ‘That someone is you’ is even shorter (less than two minutes), but superpacey and mentions “Scarface Pacino, 79 Torino”, a line that is typical Stipe doing shenanigans.
‘Me Marlon Brando Marlon Brando and I’ is a very introspective lamentation, talking about losing your heroes. Probably the one with most heartfelt lyrics of the whole bunch. Again, Mike Mills sparse vocal contribution is the cherry in top.
‘Blue’ is the weird one of the whole set and it’s the album closer, so it’s there for your to listen through or just skip. Patti Smith’s voice is like a lucid dream, all shades of bright purples and violets, while Michael Stipe delivers a stream of consciousness in a slightly altered voice which is a little strange, maybe off-putting on a first instance.
It’s a the marmite track and I did have mixed feelings about it but it does name drop the album title before a haunting piano interlude, where the only other sound is Patti Smith’s angelic voice. I’m inclined to like it. Loads. I can feel it. The ending is majestic, letting Peter Buck have fun until ‘Discoverer’ is reprised. So, yeah, like it.
I don’t wish to call it a “return to form” nor a “comeback”, as that would be saying that everything they’ve done since whoever deemed they were gone (it varies from ‘Automatic for the people’ to ‘New Adventures in Hi Fi’) is useless. It’s not. All those years and albums were the experimentation the band wanted (or needed) and after doing it, now they’ll use what worked best and fine tune their old sound.