When drummer, Bill Berry left REM in 1997, lead singer Michael Stipe suggested the band was now ‘a three legged dog’. With Berry off driving a tractor on his Georgian farm the remaining three members motored on in their own right. They decided against recruiting a new drummer and instead hired session musicians for live shows and recordings. However the dynamic making REM such a tight unit in the 1980s and early 90s was lost. This was obvious on 1996s Up and subsequent releases to date. So does their new record Collapse into Now continue a poor run?
The album’s opener Discoverer is one of the bands best offerings of the last decade and is reminiscent of Finest Worksong from their 1989 album Document.
With Stipe’s biting delivery and Peter Bucks searing guitar, All The Best is in the same vein as 2008s Accelerate album. Having often been cast as the elder statesman of indie rock; Stipe chooses to embellish the role as he declares “Let’s give it one more time. Let’s show the kids how to do it”.
REM songs have often used mandolin to good effect e g. Losing My Religion. Oh My Heart capitalises on the successes of that 1991 hit single. With its memorable chorus and Peter Buck and Mike Mills providing strong backing vocals this is probably the catchiest number of the album and is guaranteed to get good airplay.
Everyday Is Yours to Win is a slow tempo sweat number that drips of sentimentality and leaves a warm feeling in your chest with lines like “I cannot tell a lie it’s not all cherry pie but it’s all there waiting for you”.
Besides its strange title, Mine Smell Like Honey is straight out of the REM textbook, with jangling guitar and lyrics about the vicissitudes of life and our endeavors to overcome them with Stipe claiming we “Dig a hole, dig it deeper and deeper. Climb a mountain, steeper and steeper”.
Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter sees REM in a playful mood. However the results could be passed off as album filler with the only notable point of interest being the addition of Patti Smith on vocals and Lenny Kaye on guitar. From this point onwards it feels as though the album drifts in B-side territory. Songs like That Someone is You and Me Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and Me fail to stand out.
The album ends on a memorable note with Blue which follows the format that we heard on Belong from 1991′s Out of Time with Stipe delivering a rolling monologue over early 1990s guitar licks and Patti Smith playing her part on vocals.
For a band that was the first to be dubbed ‘alternative’ in the early 1980s this album doesn’t break any new ground. It sticks to the same generic REM formula that fans have become accustomed to over the last few decades. That said, with their pop sensibilities, enigmatic frontman and devoted fan base; REM will always do okay in the album stakes. However albums are so often judged by what preceeded them. Released twenty years ago at the height of the REM’s success, Collapse into Now would be cast as a failure, however in 2011 it’s a moderate success.