Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Review: REM - Collapse Into Now - plus videos

A black silhouette of R.E.M. (from left to right: Peter Buck, Michael Stipe, and Mike Mills) stand in front of a white background with yellow and orange lines. The words "R.E.M. / COLLAPSE / INTO / NOW" are written in black.With most bands who last decades, they often go through highs, lows, periods of trying out barnd new sounds and periods of attempting to revamp whatever style proved most popular. And REM's fifteenth album 'Collapse Into Now' definitely falls into the latter category.

After many average, inconsistent albums throughout the last decade, the new album opens promisingly with 'Discoverer', which in tone is slightly reminiscent of 'Finest Worksong' but with its big, vitalising rock guitar it has an overall feeling of 1994's 'Monster'. Another song that would fit in with that album is 'All The Best', but its lack of a memorable chorus hinders it somewhat. One of the album's definite highlights is 'Uberlin', which revisits the acoustic brilliance that defined so much of 'Automatic For The People' and demonstrates that when they hit top form their songwriting can be just as magic as it always used to be. Mandolin and more acoustic arrangements make up 'Oh My Heart', a gentle folk waltz that perhaps lacks the punch we were expecting from the chorus.

Yet again the lack of a strong chorus stifles 'It Happened Today', a shame considering the promise of the verse and the bright melody. 'Every Day Is Yours To Win' has a stunning 'Pet Sounds'-esque melody and a sparkling arrangement that stays sweet rather than epic. It's one of the finest moments on the album, coming across simple yet brilliant. Single 'Mine Smell Like Honey' takes a trip back to the lively riffs of 'Monster' but with a big happy chorus bringing to mind 'Out Of Time'. 'Walk It Back' is another return to 'Automatic...' style balladry, but its damp squib of a chorus prevents it from growing into an 'Everybody Hurts'-style tearjerker. After this, 'Alligator' is a welcome change of mood and pace. It may sound dumb with its blunt lyrics, and balls out guitar but it has a hyperactive punk holler to it that proves to be great fun. All that can be said about 'That Someone Is You' is that it is general filler, while 'Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I' comes across rather bleak and sad but unlike other tracks, its chorus along with its glistening guitar arrangement is one of the best things about it. 'Blue' is a strange ending, matching desolate crying guitars, a distorted spoken word narrative with an utterly miserable vocal from Patti Smith, but on an album as diverse as this, anything is possible.

The eclectic choice of songs is one of the record's strengths, however their sense of quality control seems to desert them in places, when they could easily have spent more time working on the choruses, and maybe putting the weaker songs away and waiting for better ones to come along. but when 'Collapse Into Now' is good, it produces some incredible music. But those magic moments don't come often enough on an album suffering from major inconsistency.

REM need to learn that recapturing your former glory relies on a lot more than just trying to sound like you did 20 years ago. It also involves making sure that the songwriting is up to the same standards, if not higher. 6.5/10

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