tue 15/10/2019

CD: R E M - Collapse Into Now | reviews, news & interviews

CD: R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

CD: R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

Unfeasibly good 15th studio album from Georgia combo

After 30 years, R.E.M. still have a spring in their step

Some say that R.E.M. haven't made a great album since original drummer Bill Berry left in 1997. Others don't care whether they have or not. But regardless of whether Collapse Into Now is "great", it's an excellent R.E.M. disc which erases the memory of equivocal efforts like Reveal or Around the Sun. It does so by successfully re-establishing contact with the band's original strengths (guitars, harmonies and a whiff of folk-rock mysticism) and doing it with a barrelling rush of energy which verges on the phenomenal for a band now past its 30th birthday. Maybe it's taken this long for the three original members to grow into a convincing new identity alongside now-regular cohorts Scott McCaughey (keyboards and guitars) and Bill Rieflin (drums and other stuff).

With production assistance from Jacknife Lee, they've imprinted these grooves with a dynamic group performance which oozes self-belief. Collapse... announces itself with the beefy modal churn of "Discoverer". Not dissimilar to 1987's "Finest Worksong", it wrings massive torque from a knotty jangle of guitars and a burly rhythm section, while the ecstatic feel of Michael Stipe's vocals is lifted higher by background harmonies which include a contribution from Patti Smith. Dame Patti reappears on the closing track, "Blue", a kind of "Country Feedback Revisited" where Stipe's speed-babble narrative contrasts with Smith's baleful incantations.

It's back to the future with "All the Best", a pugnacious rocker tooled up with a wall of guitars and keyboards and spearheaded by a pumped-up Stipe ("Let's sing and rhyme... Let's show the kids how to do it", exhorts the 51-year-old). The combo hit their full anthemic stride in "It Happened Today", constructed from booming acoustic guitar, bass and mandolin, but above all from a sublime vocal chorus (co-starring Eddie Vedder) which keeps spiralling euphorically upwards.

Stipe's lyrics are perfectly audible these days, though not much more meaningful. Best just to roll with the bittersweet whimsy of "ÜBerlin" or the seductive reverie of "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I", then get a reviving adrenalin shot from "Alligator_Aviator", which features a guest vocal by Peaches and sounds like a nod to R.E.M.'s old Athens, Georgia pals The B-52s. But it's not what it means, it's how it feels, and this feels very good indeed.

The combo hit their full anthemic stride in "It Happened Today", with its chorus which spirals euphorically upwards

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