Generally, when an old band starts to slump, that’s the end of them. All it takes is that one bad record and their music will start getting worse and worse. For R.E.M., the band that produced masterpiece after masterpiece up until about 1992, this slump began with the departure of Bill Berry in 1997 – the band’s main reason to continue after this was Berry’s own request that they stay together.
In 2008, R.E.M. made their return to commercial and critical success with their minds set on their I.R.S. years, “Accelerate”. A year later, R.E.M. released “Live At The Olympia”, highlighting their newfound appreciation for both their ’82 debut EP “Chronic Town” and the 2005 critically panned “Around the Sun”. Now, in 2011, R.E.M. have released their best record for the last 15 years: “Collapse Into Now”.
Collapse forges a perfect balance between R.E.M.’s three distinct eras – the I.R.S. years, the early ‘90s, and the post-Berry years. Here is a band who have finally re-found (is that a word?) their feet, their confidence, and their enjoyment of what they do. Where “Accelerate” was made up of mostly Murmur-esque jangle pop (which by no means is a bad thing), “Collapse” sees the band embrace their entire history. Despite the cringe worthy album art.
The openers, “Discoverer” and “All The Best”, are powerful jangle pop songs songs that definitely bring forward memories of “Lifes Rich Pageant” and “Reckoning”. From here on, the listener is taken on a trip through R.E.M.’s back catalogue – and even through the catalogues of some of their friends (listen to the closing track. “Fitter Happier”, anyone?).
With a voice like a fine wine, Stipe has led his band through the thick of it, and thanks to the realisation that middle age really isn’t all that bad, has finally reclaimed his band’s spot on top of the music scene. “Collapse Into Now” sounds like a greatest hits record by the R.E.M. of a parallel universe – twelve songs that were each recorded at a different point in R.E.M. history. And with each song, a breath of fresh air. This wasn’t the R.E.M. anyone was expecting, but it definitely has what has been wistfully missed for the last 15 years – originality, creativity, and balls.