Release Date: Apr 1, 2008
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
”You had placed your trust in me,” Michael Stipe sings on ”Hollow Man,” a self-effacing interlude on R.E.M.’s otherwise loud and proud 14th album, Accelerate. ”I went upside down/I emptied out the room in 30 seconds flat…” You’d almost think Stipe was apologizing for the room-clearing qualities of their last studio album, 2004’s somnolent Around the Sun. Ever since drummer Bill Berry left the band in ’97, R.E.M.
Such praise dangerously threatens to oversell Accelerate, however, suggesting that the album has either the unearthly mystique of Murmur or the ragged enthusiasm of Reckoning when it has neither. This is a careful, studied album from a band that knew they were on the brink of losing their audience and, worse, their identity. Accelerate finds R.E.M. attempting to reconnect with their music, with what made them play rock & roll in the first place, instead of methodically resurrecting a faded myth.
Review Summary: Eleven alternative pop songs with no excess fat around the edges.The self-generated press surrounding the release of R.E.M.’s fourteenth album is nothing, in itself, out of the ordinary. Sure, it’s hardly unusual for bands to hark back to the “early days” before they’ve even finished their second album, while by now the members of Metallica must be utterly sick of dropping cryptic and not-so-cryptic hints linking each forthcoming record to …And Justice For All. Yet in the case of Accelerate it’s a little different.
In polite, or hip company, there’s no right way to ask the question: “have you heard the new R.E.M album?” It’s a question that implies the answer in the combination of the words themselves and the target to whom they are being asked. The response is, more often than not, a pitying shake of the head, a swift, gentle dismissal of the band that have arguably shaped the path of modern, mainstream alternative rock than any other. Not that R.E.M necessarily deserve unfainting, unreserved praise.
Whether it’s a gutsy risk or a clueless miscue, R.E.M.’s decision to release an album loaded up with grandiose heavy-riffing rawk anthems flies in the face of the current trend toward smaller, more personal and direct productions. There are a few jangly throwbacks for nostalgia’s sake interspersed throughout Accelerate, but they’re overshadowed by blustery guitar blather that shouts “anachronism” at every turn. Had R.E.M.
Brooding disaffection about these Accelerate-d end-times peaks on "Until the Day Is Done," introduced in the lyrics accompanying R.E.M.'s 14th album with Sinclair Lewis' co-opted anti-Bush sloganeering. Strangling jangle trademarks the Athens, Ga., trio's opening triptych, sealed by "Supernatural Superserious," first cousin to Automatic for the People smash "Man on the Moon." Where the previous indelible minored in ill-fated loon Andy Kaufman, here Harry Houdini plucks the rabbit out of Michael Stipe's skullcap – protection from Peter Buck's raw nerve-endings guitar. Accelerate isn't Lifes Rich Pageant, however.