on 1 April 2011
Now that the dust has settled a little from the release of this album, it may be possible to take a slightly more dispassionate view of it. First the facts; clearly it does sound like other R.E.M. albums. It is an R.E.M album after all, and I don't recall The Beatles ever making much of an effort to sound like The Rolling Stones. But aimless re-tread it most definitely is not. A better and more cohesive set of songs than Accelerate it most certainly is. We amateur pundits could argue until the cows come home over which former R.E.M. album(s) Collapse Into Now most closely resembles, but the argument is fruitless (Out Of Time, for my money, if you're interested). What is important is that this is a good R.E.M. album. In fact, a very good one.
'Discoverer', 'Uberlin', 'Oh My Heart' and 'Mine Smell Like Honey' are cracking R.E.M. songs, bearing all the best hallmarks of the band; melody, harmony and jangling guitars aplenty. In 'It Happened Today', lightweight lyrics aside (ironic, who knows?) R.E.M. have delivered the best soaring harmonies and chorus since the sublime 'Texarcana'. 'Blue', with its Patti Smith vocals and feedback guitar, is reminiscent of the wondrous 'Country Feedback'. But all of them are strong songs in their own right; their similarity to past glories being just that, glorious. No one ever likened anything on Around The Sun to R.E.M.'s previous work, and with good reason (although that album is nowhere near as execrable as popular opinion would have us believe).
So there you have it. Two decent albums in a row. The band sounds like R.E.M. again. Thank heavens for that; they have never really sounded like anyone else. They have rediscovered decent songwriting, soaring harmonies and loud jangling guitars, and they sound like they had a great time doing it. How many other American bands from the 80s are knocking out material of this quality after 25 years? Buy it, and enjoy.
on 12 March 2011
Collapse Into Now is a very good album. On its own merit. I have read a lot of reviews which obsess about the disappointing quality of REM albums post Automatic. The run from Murmur to Automatic is indeed wonderful (although I think Out of Time, despite containing some of their best songs, is overrated) but I can say honestly that I also love Up and Reveal. Monster has some fantastic moments, New Adventures was a great collection of songs that didn't cohere as an album. Around the Sun remains the only blemish on their career to date and I'm not even going to try to justify it. Accelerate was a welcome blast of fresh air (much like Pearl Jam's Backspacer) but its nice to hear REM returning to a more relaxed style on Collapse. Discoverer is a promising opener and the album is consistently rewarding throughout. Uberlin is a particular highlight - a beautiful song that gives me goosebumps - remember how REM have an uncanny, inexplicable way of doing that at times? So, no its not Murmur or Automatic and it all sounds just how you imagine REM should sound - but you know what? I keep listening to it. It finishes and I hit play again. And again. And I love Stipe's voice. And the music just works! And God bless Mike Mills with those harmonies! And these are great songs! Enjoy them. And long live REM!
Any which way you look at it a new R.E.M. album is always an
event of sufficient importance that we have to sit up and listen!
With a band who have been with us in the listening world for
such a long time it's hard to resist the urge to look backwards
over our shoulder and compare each album with what has gone before.
There's a big, brave body of work stretching out behind them like
a wild wave on which we have surfed with them across three decades!
'Collapse Into Now' is a fine album (some decidedly dodgy guitar
tunings nothwithstanding here and there!) A very fine album in fact.
There are some good songs here but there are also a handful of great
ones. I've always been able to take or leave the band's more ribald
electric offerings and although the opening two tracks 'Discover'
and 'All The Best' certainly demonstrate that there is still life
after middle-age they didn't exactly blow my socks off into the ether.
When we get round to the gloriously rich simplicity of 'Oh My Heart'
and the joyous folksy melancholy of 'It Happened Today', however, we
feel the blood begin to flow more quickly through our veins!
(In Mr Stipes hands even a phrase as potentially lame as "Hip Hip
Hooray" sounds as though it might have a deeper philosophical meaning!)
'Every Day Is Yours To Win' is simply beautiful too. An R.E.M. anthem
to stand shoulder to shoulder with their most memorable inventions.
The final track 'Blue' is a big song. A veritable monolithic stone
ziggurat of a song! World-weary and weather-beaten; cloak trailing
behind it in the mud and grime of another failing century, it has
a rough and ready majesty strong enough to make the Earth tremble
beneath our feet. Pagan Poet Queen Patti Smith is here to share
the moment; her doleful intonation of the words lending an exquisite
gravitas to this truly stunning transcendental musical edifice. Sublime.
There is more to love than to leave on 'Collapse Into Now'.
Messrs Stipe, Buck and Mills have delivered a true classic.
on 7 April 2014
R.E.M.'s final album Collapse Into Now is their very human ode to the Southern states – a distant cousin to 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction – in which themes of yearning, facing up to adversity, and coping with the stresses of modern life go under the microscope.
Opening with the Byrds-y Middle Eastern sounding riff of “Discoverer,” the sustain of Peter Buck’s guitar mixes dissonance with harmony in a way which will certainly please the Sonic Youth contingent. It’s a strong opener, certainly sets the mood, and shows that the elder statesmen of the '80s underground scene can certainly still rock & roll with the best of ‘em.
After launching into the middling straight-ahead rocker “All the Best,” R.E.M. dip into mid-'80s jangle pop with “Überlin,” an acoustic number with a dream-like and summery feel. While an organ plays in near-reverie, a distorted Velvet Underground-esque guitar drone akin to John Cale’s viola permeates the track beautifully, as the lyrics seemingly refer to a blue-collar worker's morning routine.
"Hey now," Michael Stipe sings wistfully, "take your pills, and hey now, make your breakfast, hey now, comb your hair and off to work." Despite listing these mundane chores, the song soon segues into an affirmation of metaphorical optimism: "I am flying on a star into a meteor tonight... I am flying on a star, a star, a star... I will make it through the day." I interpret this song to be about summoning the existential will to endure the drudgery of work while reconciling the very human need to aspire.
The folk song “Oh My Heart” appears to be about the city of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina (“I came home to a city half-erased”) with Michael Stipe’s yearning, pensive vocals piercing through Arcade Fire-y mandolin and accordion with great aplomb. “The storm didn’t kill me,” Stipe sings. “The government changed. Hear the answer and call, hear this song re-arranged. Hear the trees, the ghosts and the buildings sing, with the wisdom to reconcile this thing.”
Those of us who watch Sky Atlantic HD will be aware of Treme, a HBO drama penned by David Simon (the writer of The Wire), which is similarly about a community in New Orleans who are attempting to rebuild their lives and homes in the wake of the hurricane, and “Oh My Heart” seems to refer to this particular struggle. Even “It Happened Today” seems to loosely reference the disaster, albeit ambiguously, as it doesn’t try to contextualise the hurricane in moral terms (“This is not a parable, this is a terrible thing”).
“It Happened Today” marks yet another foray into folk music for R.E.M., but enlists the help of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who is clearly enjoying his dabble in roots music after making his soundtrack for Into the Wild. Vedder compliments the usual Stipe-ish schtick of yailing like a yodeling banshee, driving the song along an anthemic Big Star-ish groove of power chords. “We’ll leave the allegory to a different Bible story,” sings Stipe, “out of deference, defiance, and choice.”
“Every Day Is Yours To Win” has a pretty, lilting arpeggiated guitar melody and appears to be a homage to the South, as it clearly references “southern fudge.” Stipe’s near-ambient chanting soon takes hold, sounding like a monk in a monastery, talking of bridges and roads lying ahead. “It’s all there waiting for you,” Stipe says. “Every day is never good, every day is yours to win, and that’s how heroes are made.”
Lead single “Mine Smell Like Honey” is next up, a straight rocker about singing “the praises of your fruit” in which honey might just be one big euphemism for sex. You can never tell with Michael Stipe. He’s notoriously cryptic. However, the spectre of doom – just like Southern gothic tales like Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic bestseller The Road – is never too far away, as Stipe speculates what happens “if the end comes faster than we had expected, and predictions lead us to the final fall.”
“Walk It Back” is pleasant album filler, harking back to ‘60s pop with piano and acoustic strumming. “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” is a sub-standard Monster-period rocker with elements of punk; Stipe spewing out free association lyrics like a long forgotten beat poet; with electroclash musician Peaches singing on backing vocals, in much a similar manner as Kate Pierson of The B-52’s did on “Shiny Happy People.” The upbeat chugging of “That Someone Is You” is where Stipe implores somebody to pull him up out of cartoon quicksand, reviving the themes of struggle and plaintiveness.
“Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” is a slow ballad, but the chorus is a bit insipid with its cry of “Lay me down!” being a lazy lyrical choice. "We live and dream about our heroes, we live and dream about our futures," Stipe sings, clearly recalling Marlon Brando's appearance in 1954 drama On the Waterfront when he shouted about how “I coulda been a contender!” It’s easy to draw Brando’s iconic status in parallel with Collapse Into Now's themes of working-class toil, ambition and longing.
The album's finale is marked by "Blue" where Michael Stipe recites some of his spoken word poetry backed by a distorted atmosphere of winsome ambience. It’s this song which gave name to the album, referring to the “20th century, collapsing into now” before a piano invites punk legend Patti Smith to sing the bizarre line: “Cinderella boy, you lost your shoe." Before long, the whole thing erupts into a big reprisal of the opening riff from "Discoverer" and brings the whole thing full circle.
Collapse Into Now is not as political as R.E.M.'s last album Accelerate, but it’s socially aware lyrically, holds together well thematically, is musically tight (as always), and surprisingly winds up being something of a swansong for Michael Stipe and company. It's definitely an album that will yield new interpretations on repeated listens, but a slight sag in the middle half of the LP lets it down, so on that count, it’s not quite a masterpiece. But it’s a solid, artful effort.
on 24 September 2011
R.E.M. has my total respect. I have been an off-and-on fan for over 25 years. My first experience was the wonderful "Green," and as I was living in seattle at the time, it will forever remind me of the Crocodile Cafe, a new alt band moping around 5th Ave and Pike called Nirvana, and so much more.
It was with real glee that I was handed a copy of R.E.M's newest release and their fifteenth album. I have followed their changes, both personal and with personnel.
This album is lush, loud (but the right kind of loud), straightforward and more.
12 songs totalling just over 40 minutes:
1. Discoverer - Michael Snipe's vocals have never sounded better as he takes us on his and his bandmates journey once again, taking us by the hand into the craziness of life, and sometimes it's not as bad as we think it is. Patti Smith also jumps in on harmony, and it only sounds greater with her in this fast rocker.
2. All the Best - the sound is fresh and wonderful, a bit rushed but they tell you that they as a band have done it all and they aren't going anywhere - the kids don't really know, so we'll just have to show them how to.
3. Überlin - the lyrics are just as sing-song and still make me have to listen to it a few times - the guitars here are somewhat buried, but the harmonies will lift you off the ground. Eat some breakfast, don't forget us, we're right here, and we always have been...
4. Oh My Heart - If Starship built this city on rock and roll, R.E.M. came back after a long journey with a heavy heart to help rebuild it after the disasters of power pop princesses, Autotune and Beatles car commercials. Will they save us? I hope to God so...
5. It Happened Today - Michael and the boys took the brunt of the pain and want you to know it's okay to breathe, and the parade is holding them up in their arms... wonderful harmonies by wonderful tunesmiths Michael and guest vocalist Eddie Vedder.
6. Every Day Is Yours to Win - a wonderful slow ballad that reminds me so much of "Everybody Hurts," but not so much the message, but it's a grocery list of laments and ideas and promises, but in the end as they've always said, it's in your hands, and you decide how you shape the world... is this so wrong?
7. Mine Smell Like Honey - a crunchy bit of rock slapped down in the middle of this album, and sometimes the search is better than the finding of what's really out there.
8. Walk It Back - one of the most direct songs on the album, and will be in heavy rotation on many alt stations nationwide, guaranteed. He wants you to know that it's okay to want the things you've given to others to sometimes come back to you faster than anyone else may want it to happen. Blessings, miracles, magical events, karma, they do come back, but at their pace.
9. Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter - a real rocking return to the R.E.M. of old, it's the 1990's all over, and guest vocalist techno rocker Peaches perfectly throws out the nonsensical and wild lyrics with a gusto I haven't heard on an R.E.M. album in a while...
10. That Someone Is You - God, I thought it was The Replacements from 1992 all over again, but this only tells me that their sound, THEIR SPEEDY GUITAR GEORGIA SOUND, has been copied by so many others I thought it was someone else! Wow, they sound so good...!
11. Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I - this song once again takes me to "Man In The Moon," and it's another lost ballad to once glorious times, and people who defined the kind of effortless cool and strength at the speed of sound that's gone, gone, gone, and only the boys can make it worth listening to.
12. Blue - Patti Smith, who keeps Michael and the rest of the band centered as everything else unravels in a miked up background, sings against a digital wind and a symphony of words, guitar and drums swirling around her. She is grounded, and the storm rises and flows, and the album ends on a whirlwind of what-might-have-beens, piano and repetitive words, and finally background vocal noises and guitar effects, endlessly fading into the blackness of the album.
I was exhausted after listening to this, and you will be too. It's breezy, forces you to stop and listen, to take a sonic journey and stay the whole way through. I was a bit disappointed that they are relying on past glories (and sound) to produce still inventive music, but I have looked past worse things from other bands. If you've got a great formula, and it works, use it!
Out of 5 stars I'm giving it 4 - I have to be honest, I have heard a few of these songs before wearing the same suit, but I still say buy it for it's use of sound, the usage of their singsong lyrics, and please give it a listen. Discover it for yourself and you might find it's a journey worth taking.
(Thanks for reading and please check out my other reviews, and don't forget to leave feedback!)
on 29 August 2011
Fifteen years after "New Adventures In Hi-Fi" and after 4 albums, each of them supposed to be "the best of our career" and each of them becoming a new deception for me, yes, even accelerate, at last R.E.M. returns to the right place. It's not "Green", "Out Of Time", "Automatic For The People", "Monster" or "New Adventures In Hi-Fi" but it seems that after 4 false attempts a three legged dog is finally a dog. Maybe some of the songs sound a bit like other of their previous albums, maybe, but I like them. Maybe sometimes we expect too much of just a piece of music named song and it may happen somehow some bands are trapped in this question when, actually, it's just as simple as: I know, it's only Rock'n Roll, but I like it! I also think the album works quite well as a whole and contains really powerfull tunes, rocky and catchy, but not sticky. Also, there are some slow quiet songs but this time they work, it's not a simple sucession of sad depressing tunes. I wonder if I will have to wait for another fifteen years to get again a real good cd that deserves the name R.E.M. on its sleeve. A final wish, I've missed the availability of an special edition containing the footage of the concert held at Hansa Studios, of which some is shown on the web. I like the intimate atmosphere of this event.
So REM are no more, and this is what they have left us with. It's a lovely album, whilst not top drawer (New Adventures, Pageant, Murmur, AFTP) it is still one of the best records you'll hear this year.
The album starts stridently with Discoverer and All The Best (my favourite REM track for years and years) before slowing down into a sumptious middle section. The songs here are all reminiscent of glories past (a touch of Daysleeper here, a touch of Drive there) before revving up again with Mine Smell Like Honey and the silliness of Alligator...(the first irreverent song they've done since Out of Time I reckon) and the Monster-esque That Someone Is You. Like Automatic, they save two pearls for last. Me, Marlon Brando is beautiful - a lovely lilting tune that demands repeat listening. And then the finale. Its a mash-up of E-Bow and Country Feedback. It's called Blue, and it's a magnificent end to a magnificent career. When the chiming guitars that reprise Discoverer come in at the end it brings a lump to my throat every time.
I was looking forward to hearing this live though. Bummer. Maybe the reunion tour in 2015! Here's hoping.
Lastly - thanks REM, you were my Beatles. I'll miss you.
on 26 September 2012
Collapse Into Now was released in March 2011 and like all the R.E.M albums since 1994 I purchased on the day of release. Little did I know some 6 months later the Band announced they were "Calling it a day" and Collapse Into Now would be the last studio album by the band.
Looking back, there is many clues on Collapse Into Now that the band is saying goodbye, Stipe singing "All the best" and the lyrics of "It Happened Today "- "Yes, I will rhyme that after all I have done today, I have earned my wings". The last 3 songs are (In my opinion) tributes to Artists R.E.M. have always looked up to: "That Someone is you" is Mike Mills song that goes back to his punk roots. "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I" is Peter Buck's tribute to Neil Young, even Michael Stipe namedrops the great man himself and "Blue" is Michael Stipe's and Patti Smith's song - Upon first hearing of the album I wished that next R.E.M. album would follow the example of Blue, sadly that album never came........
As far as R.E.M's albums go Collapse Into Now is not as strong as earlier albums such as, Fables of the Reconstruction and New Adventures etc. However, this is easily on a par with Accelerate - which was probably the band's best album since 1998's Up.
Stand out songs are:
All The Best
It Happened Today
On closing, I would say that any R.E.M. fan, who maybe fell out of love with the band after Monster/New Adventures should check this album and I feel that may just be surprised with what you hear.
on 11 April 2012
How I wish I'd written this text before September 2011, because then I could've reviewed 'Collapse Into Now' as just another R.E.M. record and not their epitaph. As it is, it's impossible to listen to it without thinking of it as 'the last R.E.M. album' and not 'the latest R.E.M. album'. It's too much perspective, as Spinal Tap once noted.
After 'Around The Sun', R.E.M.'s bland, worst-ever record, the edgy, aggressive brilliance of 'Accelerate' (their best since Bill Berry's departure) was something of a surprise to say the least. It started fantastically and continued that way until the final track. I like R.E.M. best when they rock out. In my opinion, they peaked with 'Document', and that's what 'Accelerate' reminded me of. I remarked on this to an R.E.M.-loving friend and he didn't share my enthusiasm for 'Accelerate', and said he found it faintly embarrassing that a group of middle-aged men were trying to recreate a record made over 20 years ago. I understood his point, but I thought 'Accelerate' worked because its songs were so strong.
There's less rocking out on 'Collapse Into Now' than 'Accelerate'. It's more of a mixture of the loud and the quiet, the commercial and the uncommercial, the folk-influenced and the rock-influenced. It's a walk through their back catalogue. There's even a bouzouki on there, which brings back memories of 'Out Of Time', mandolin-era R.E.M. It's a sound I could do without, to be honest, as they overused it back in the nineties and it didn't need reviving. But that's a minor criticism. There are some great tracks on this record: 'Discoverer' is a raucous opener, 'Every Day Is Yours To Win' is beautiful and reflective, 'Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter' is lovable nonsense. As post-Bill Berry work goes, 'Collapse Into Now' is good but not great. I can't help thinking this should've been their penultimate offering and 'Accelerate' their last, because that would've been a more memorable way to bow out.
on 10 March 2011
Without any reference to previous albums or the age of this band, this is an absolutely beautiful, amazing album with the exception of only two songs in my opinion which are just average (All the best and Me, Marlon Brando..)but I've given it 5 stars anyway because the other ten tracks are so outstanding.
Highlights for me are Uberlin, Oh My Heart, Everyday is Yours to Win and Walk it Back which has the loveliest, most vulnerable vocal from Michael Stipe since Nightswimming (oops..can't help referencing previous albums).
I think this is the kind of album with something for everyone, fast paced rockers, gorgeous ballads, experimental stuff (Blue) and lighthearted fun (That Someone is You, Alligator...)
Now, with reference to their previous work and their age (apparently the band is 30 years old!), I find it amazing that a band can produce something this stunning so late in their career. It's true, there is nothing groundbreaking in this album, it is not a new direction for the band, but neither is it a repeat of their older stuff. Collapse into Now has a warm familiarity to it which is very welcome - REM are making the kind of beautiful music they are so good at and it makes me smile.