R.E.M.

Collapse Into Now

Warner Bros.

Mar 09, 2011 Issue #35 - Winter 2011 - Death Cab for Cutie Bookmark and Share


"Let's show the kids how to do it, fine," sings Michael Stipe on the torrid rocker "All the Best," the second song on Collapse Into Now, R.E.M.'s finest album in nearly 15 years. The lyric nods to 1992's Automatic For the People's call out on "Drive," "Hey kids, where are you? Nobody tells you what to do," Stipe's confession of impending middle age and losing touch with youth. But here, the 51-year-old is comfortable in his role as an elder statesman, as are guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills on their most self-aware record since the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1998.

The record kicks off with a resolute bang on "Discoverer," as Buck plays a swirling psychedelic riff that's equal parts Green's "Turn You Inside Out" and New Adventures in Hi-Fi's "Departure," and Stipe awkwardly insists, "With the slightest bit of finesse/I might've made a little less mess," as the chorus surges into overdrive. It's one of the finest openings to an R.E.M. album in recent memory, on par with Accelerate's vicious diatribe "Living Well Is the Best Revenge."

Despite the ease with which they rock out on Collapse, the band's strength has always rested in mid-tempo numbers and ballads. "Uberlin" falls into the former category, as Buck's brisk acoustic guitar strums animate the melody, while Stipe delivers one of the most stirring vocal performances of his career, assuredly keening, "I know what I am chasing/I know that this is changing me."

The slow motion lullaby "Walk It Back" is perhaps the most gorgeous song on the album, a winding piano ballad in the vein of Up's "At My Most Beautiful." As Stipe laments, "Time/Reverse and rewind/Erase and realize," it's as affecting an evocation of lost youth as when he sang, "Every streetlight reveals a picture in reverse," on Automatic's "Nightswimming."

Yet R.E.M. aren't a cheap nostalgia act here by any stretch, and on the closing dirge-like "Blue," he speak-sings something of a personal soliloquy, "This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive," as band hero Patti Smith enigmatically intones, "Cinderella boy, you lost your shoe." And as the song's outro reprises the opening bars of "Discoverer," you get the sense that you're listening to a legendary band utterly revitalized, operating at the peak of their formidable powers. (www.remhq.com)

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