R.E.M. - Accelerate (Warner Bros, 2008)
After nearly ten years of relatively uninspired albums, I had pretty much written R.E.M. off, a sad and difficult thing to do since they were one of my favorite rock and roll bands during the Eighties and Nineties. The group seemed to lose their way as the new millennium dawned and throughout the last few albums they eschewed their previously winning formula of tight guitar based songs, exchanging them for overproduced keyboard centered melancholy. So it comes as quite a surprise to hear the band come out of their corner fighting like a bloody brawler who knows it's his last chance. While most media and fans seem to see the band revolving around Michael Stipe's lyrics and vocals, I have always felt that the band's fortunes have risen and fallen with Peter Buck's guitar playing. In the early Eighties, his Byrds like jangling chords set the tone for the band's music, and his strong electric guitar playing buoyed albums like Document and New Adventures in Hi-Fi. When the band drifted in the Noughties, Buck's energy and drive was conspicuously absent. He is front and center on this album, and the music is all the more successful for it. Storming guitars and tight performances dominate this short and potent record. While the songwriting may not be the most profound of the band's career, the sense of mission is palpable, as is the sense that this last chance must not slip away. The opening track "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" throws down the gauntlet for the album, blasting a wall of electric guitars and rocking out in an almost desperate style. By the time we get to "Hollow Man" and the slow, mournful intro I started thinking oh no, not again, but then the guitars muscle in the the music really takes off. As a record collecting nerd, it's tough for me to resist Stipe gleefully chanting "Since death is pretty final/I'm collecting vinyl" on the-apocalypse-is-coming rocker "I'm Gonna D.J." "Horse to Water" is another example of the band at their most robust, roaring through a torrid tempo. So while this isn't a masterpiece on the level of Murmur or Document, it is still an impressive comeback. After years of overproduced, over-thought and overwrought music, to hear this band taking risks and reaping their rewards is more than enough to recommend this album.
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