[sic] Magazine

R.E.M – Collapse Into Now

Album #15. Aged 51. What new is there to say? Where new is there to go? That’s the question R.E.M. – and its potential market – have to ask themselves. And the answer is unclear. The world doesn’t need another new R.E.M. album. Does the world need a new Bon Jovi record? Is there anything to be said they haven’t said before, and better, 10 or 20 years ago?

By any absolute standard, Collapse Into Now is another, above-average R.E.M. album: better certainly than a lot of their 00’s output, but not a great record. They haven’t made a truly great album since 1998’s obtuse Up , and that’s at a push. This slender package – at 40 minutes – leaves the fervent R.E.M. listener dissatisfied. After 2008’s 33 minute Accelerate , I was hoping for something that managed to be both of satisfactory length, had a degree of artistic weight, and wasn’t compressed to hell by bad audio mastering.

Luckily, ‘Collapse Into Now’ – taking its cue from the idea that the weight of history is forming our times as dinosaurs are formed into coal – is a strong, but not exceptional, release. The R.E.M. signature style – angular guitars, soaring backing vocals, is unchanged. And after a while, a signature style can become a straitjacket. There’s nothing new here but a solid set of songs. Some of them are designed for the concert environment – ‘Discoverer’ sounds like a great 1987-era outtake, as does the keen ‘All The Best’, or the somewhat absent-minded, daydreaming ‘Every Day Is Yours To Win’ is the song ‘Up’ needed : but these are all restatements of existing ideas, not new adventures in hi-fi. Stipe vocalises his predicaments, but sounds, as he did for much of the past decade, less than enthused, more considered, as if his music were an academic paper. The album needs blood, power, anger, and sometimes – ‘Alligator, Autopilot’, ‘Oh My Heart’ – it does. And then, with a generic fast paced mid-LP rocker like ‘That Someone Is You’, it becomes apparent that sometimes, Stipe just braindumps his first draft over a fast backing track, and lo-and-behold-it’s-1989-again!

So, is it any good? At best, one of the biggest crimes in the world is to be mediocre. And this just pushes beyond average and mediocre to often to be anything other than exactly that. Another good R.E.M. album, but not one you’ll return to as an instant classic.


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