For the Record: R.E.M. — Collapse Into Now

R.E.M.’s fifteen studio album, and possibly the first one to actually feature the band on the cover, hits record stores today. That’s assuming you’re old like me and actually know what a record store is. I’m guessing it’s also available to download.

R.E.M. holds the same place in my music-loving heart as so many of the artists I listened to in my teens and 20s — U2, Springsteen, Costello, etc. I loved them in their prime, I remain faithful to them past their prime, but the thrill — for the most part — is gone.

Is “Collapse Into Now” good? Yes. Is it “Document,” “Murmur” or “Life’s Rich Pageant” good? Hardly. Those were albums that I loved on first hearing. Albums I can still put on and enjoy in full. I had to listen to the new one four times before it finally clicked with me. Good albums can grow on you. Great albums don’t have to.

After accusations of being too soft with albums like “Up” and “Around the Sun,” the band’s previous release — “Accelerate” — tried a little too hard to rock out. The new record has a nice balance. “Collapse Into Now” has solid rockers (Alligator-Aviator-Autopilot-Antimatter), a couple of fine mid-tempo singles (Überlin, Oh My Heart) and a really nice, slower song (Walk it Back).

While it took a while to warm up to it, “Collapse Into Now” is a solid effort by R.E.M. All the signature bits are there: Michael Stipe’s unique lead vocals, Mike Mills’ familiar backing harmonies, Peter Buck’s signature guitar and mandolin licks.

I’d rank it in the mid-range of their catalogue. If  you’re an R.E.M. fan — and by now you should know if you are or not — it’s worth picking up. The one song I didn’t warm up to was “Blue,” a pretentious number where Stipe reads off the lyrics while Patti Smith gargles in the background. Fortunately it’s the last song on the disc so it’s easy to avoid.

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