Sunday, 27 April 2008

Talk About The Passion


For a short time back in the late 1980s, I would probably have described R.E.M. as my favourite band. But my relationship with them started to sour as far back as “Automatic for the People”, and I have to admit that I’ve not even bothered to listen to their last release “Around the Sun”, as the two that preceded it were so limp and lifeless.
So you’ll understand why I approached this album with some trepidation, despite being promised that the band are back on form. The first thing that I noticed about “Accelerate” is that it’s only 34 minutes in length, possibly the shortest album they’ve recorded (but I wasn’t anal enough to dig out all the others just to check). To me, this is a good sign, as I often get bored with bands who feel they have to use the full capacity of a CD just because it’s there. The overall feel of the album is loud and fast, but thankfully it sounds nothing like the sludgy mess of 1994’s “Monster”, their previous attempt at a “rock” album. Many of the tracks sound more like beefed-up versions of material from their IRS heyday; the Byrds-like guitar sound is back, the lyrics are more cryptic than they have been in recent years, and Stipe’s vocal delivery is so urgent that you need to refer to the lyric sheet to catch everything he says.
While there is no doubt that this album is a product of the 21st century, it could still sit comfortably between “Fables of the Reconstruction” and “Lifes Rich Pageant” (my favourite R.E.M. album, despite the missing apostrophe in its title). The band are obviously aware of this sense of nostalgia; the two more folky numbers, “Houston” and “Until The Day Is Done”, are both reminiscent of “Swan Swan H”, and the lyrics of “Sing For The Submarine” make a sly reference to “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”.
“Accelerate” is not without its faults. Closing track “I’m Gonna DJ” comes across as a little cheesy, with Stipe telling us of his plans to “DJ at the end of the world” and how heaven has a “kickin’ playlist”. My grievance with this song is a very personal one, as I’ve always found that songs about DJs make me cringe, probably because I worked as a DJ for many years. Other listeners may see “I’m Gonna DJ” as a follow-up to “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and a fun way to end the album.
So, overall this is not quite a classic R.E.M. album, but it’s closer than I would have dared to hope for. For any former fans who have been avoiding R.E.M. for the past 10 years, this could be a good time to re-acquaint yourself with the band.


Pete Green said...

Hang on - when did they start doing lyric sheets? Bloody buggering sellout bastids!

Steve said...

I think it was either "Up" or "Reveal" that was the first one to include the lyrics. I know what you mean though, that was part of the appeal in the old days - you weren't supposed to know what he was singing.

Richard Burton said...

Have to say I also thought Accelerate was a good return to form for REM after a long time of them producing albums that were, all said and done, not as good as they could have been. I'm being very nerdy here but did you spot the reference to Blade Runner in 'Sing for the Submarine'?