RELEASE DATE: April 1, 2008
WEB DEBUT: March 15, 2008
ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: The first thing that needs to be said, although this certainly isn’t the first place where its been said, is that it’s much better than Reveal or Around The Sun. The more aggressive sound is appreciated, actually compelling you to listen to the finish without an urge to really slam the skip button, possibly thanks to the heavily compressed sound that producer Jackknife Lee is known for. That being said, should the terms “return to form” or “classic R.E.M.” be tossed around? No, of course not. Anyone who is expecting a 2008 version of Life’s Rich Pageant will be sorely disappointed, but Accelerate‘s certainly a solid modern rock album, and probably will fall near the top of the bottom third of their catalog, if you’re into ranking those sort of things.
At very least, it’s nice to hear a big, strong opener: “Living Well…” sounds great loud, and R.E.M. sounds like a band with purpose. Michael Stipe’s lyrics are largely fine throughout–although there are some real clunkers–and he’s gotten slightly better at being cryptic again, which to me is a welcome turn. My favorite part of the album was probably hearing Mike Mills through the speakers, track after track. To me, “Man Sized Wreath” and “Supernatural Superserious” are saved by his performances and there were numerous occasions where I was so thankful for his backing vocals that it felt as if they were the aspect of R.E.M. I was most nostalgic for. “Houston” sounds like a Automatic For The People b-side; “Horse To Water” features an angrier R.E.M. than I might have thought possible; and “I’m Gonna DJ” is a bad idea somewhat well executed.
Then it’s over. I knew the album was short, but the end caught me by surprise.
And then–and maybe this is a sad, back-handed compliment for a band with a great catalog–I started over from the beginning. I actually wanted to listen to a recent R.E.M. disc…again, and without being disappointed or depressed about “fallen heroes” or “Stevie Wonder-style depressing career turns”. Accelerate‘s not going to be part of the race for “best R.E.M. album”, but I’ll thank them for not making it another contender for the worst.