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|9. Sing For The Submarine|
|10. Horse To Water|
|11. I'm Gonna DJ|
Accelerate arrives in 2008 as the first studio album in four years from R.E.M., and it finds modern rock's most acclaimed band returning to the stripped down, guitar-driven power that first enraptured fans. Helmed by the band and for the first time, Jacknife Lee (co-producer of U2's '05 Grammyr Album Of The Year How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, The Hives, and Snow Patrol), Accelerate puts the 2007 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame group once again firmly behind the wheel of alternative rock, a genre R.E.M. helped invent.
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While this disk is above-average for REM music since they became a trio, some songs sound a bit forced in terms of their loudness and "edginess", hence less than their fully authentic selves, and the songwriting is a bit spotty... (I admit that REM's early CDs are among my favourites in Rock so, by comparison nothing else will ever likely stand up to say, Automatic for The People or their First two CDs.)
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(P.S. Make sure you grab the non-album track "Redhead Walking" from iTunes: a great novelty song and surely destined for a Tarantino film soundtrack.)
On "Accelerate" (11 tracks; 35 min.) REM attacks with a vigor not heard since "Monster" and "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" (the last album with original drummer Bill Berry). From the opening sounds of "Living Well's the Best Revenge", REM sounds completely reinvigorated and rejuvenated, and what a joy it is to hear. The album goes from one highlight to the next. The songs are short and to the point, they make their point and move on. Track 4 "Hollow Man" is when you think you'll catch your breath, and you do for about 15 seconds, before that songs also crashes in to your speakers. "Houston" follows and is the only weak track on the album, in my opinion. The second half kicks off with the rousing title track, and we're off to the races again: "Until the Day Is Done" and "Mr Richards" are superb. "Horse to Water" is one of my favorites with an irresistible sing-along chorus of "I'm not that easy/I am not your horse to water/I hold my breath I come around") sing-along, and "I'm Gonna DJ" is a killer track to close this set (with such choice lines of "Death is pretty final/I'm collecting vinyl/I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world"). It truly is remarkable that some how REM has rediscovered its musical focus and muse. Peter Buck's guitar work is among the best he's ever done, Stipe sounds like he's actually enjoying the songs, and Mills' harmonizing back vocals are really great (check out "Living Well", for example, but surely some credit of this resurgence must go to producer Jacknife Lee.
I can't emphasize enough how pleasantly surprised I am by this album, even shocked. I truly didn't think that REM had another great album in them, but I am more than happy to say that I was flat wrong and in my book "Accelerate" brings REM back to relevance, after so many disappointing years. I had the opportunity to see REM headline the Langerado Music Festival in early March in South Florida, and they play a bunch of songs from "Accelerate", and it all sounded fantastic. Welcome back REM, we've missed ya! "Accelerate" is one of the early favorites for top album of the year. Highly recommended!
The songs are short and hit like a ton of bricks. If anyone remembers the anger on The Final Straw from the last record, well this album is like a full album's worth of that song with the amps turned way up and the songs at full speed. Living Well Is The Best Revenge is the best and loudest opener since Whats the Frequency Kenneth or maybe even Finest Worksong. Man-Sized Wreath is an unconventional but totally catchy rocker and Michael sounds absolutely fantastic and pissed off and Mike Mills backing vocals are terrific! 'Supernatural Superserious' sounds like the closest thing to a classic R.E.M single on this record. It may not be the best song here, but it is definitely the most conventionally catchy song to be found here. Hollow Man follows and sounds like a total piano ballad until suddenly, the guitars come in. What a great fake out on the band's part and it sounds like it would be a great single. 'Houston' sounds like it would fit perfectly on Automatic for the people; very folksy...reminds me a lot of Try Not to Breathe musically. "Until The Day Is Done' is another folksy ballad that sounds like it would have been perfect on Automatic...it also sounds a lot like Swan Swan H from Lifes Rich Pageant. Its one of my favorites on the record and if it weren't so openly political, it would make for a great single. 'Horse To Water' is just pure adrenaline and definitely one of the best full on rockers the band has made in a long time. I know it sounds like repetition but its very angry, and definitely a bruiser. Im Gonna DJ is a full on glam stomper that the band played on the last tour. Its a really fun post apocalyptic that not quite as Its the End of the World, but almost as fun and inspired nonetheless and its a perfect closer to the record.
Anyone accusing the band of making this record to satisfy record company execs, would be absolutely wrong. On the contrary, the majority of the songs are so openly political, that Top 40 will not likely touch them at all (if U2 cant get on the radio, R.E.M. wont either). R.E.M. seems to be reaching back into the ire and anger of their indie IRS days, as this sounds more like an updated 'Lifes Rich Pageant' and 'Document' than it does any of their Warner Brothers records (with Monster being the exception) as it rocks aplenty, and it is a very righteously angry album except now the anger is placed in the Bush administration and not the Reagan administration as it was in their indie days. But, rest assured, this is not a nostalgic record. It is definitely firmly placed in the here and now. Also like Lifes Rich Pageant, this album is a solidly good album all the way through, without there necessarily huge singles waiting to be plucked out. There is nary a bad track on here. It is not QUITE classic album in the vein of Murmur or Automatic...but it is indeed a necessary and much needed addition to their discography and their best album since at least New Adventures in Hi Fi. R.E.M. are back and they're coming out swinging!
Then, on a major label and with a wah-wah pedal (or maybe a mandolin) R.E.M. became the rock superstars that everyone knew. The band, as Kurt Cobain said, handled their success like saints, turning down millions to not let their songs be used by Bill Gates, and refused to make the same album twice to cash in on their massive popularity.
Yet, with any success comes a backlash, and with 1994's Monster, many fans of both eras began to drift away. By 1997, with the departure of Bill Berry, the band moved into another era. One that found the band trying to figure out a direction to go which could, somehow, tie everything together on a collective positive level.
Accelerate is the music of a band who has found that path. It will not bring back the Murmur/Reckoning faithful. It will not sell like Out of Time. Perhaps, one day, more music fans will like the studio sounds of the last three records. It is not like those albums either.
What Accelerate is, is R.E.M. phase four music. Alive and vital in 2008. A record that will have its fans and critics, but signifies the beginning of a new era in the bands history. One that by looking forward, also can reach back, where fans of all three groups might find key elements that represent why they became fans to begin with. It also deserves to make its fair share of new ones.