Look­ing for­ward, not back

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music Reviews -

REM Ac­cel­er­ate Warner REM have lost a lot of fol­low­ers over the years. Their finest work be­longs to the 1980s: be­gin­ning with the cheap, tinny bril­liance of Ra­dio Free Europe in 1981, and cul­mi­nat­ing in Green in 1989.

For many, in­ter­est dwin­dled af­ter Au­to­matic for the Peo­ple and the patchy Mon­ster. This decade’s re­leases were iden­ti­cally bland and haem­or­rhaged even more fans. So last year when the band pre­viewed new ma­te­rial in Dublin, even those who had re­nounced them got ex­cited. Could this be the re­turn to form we’d been promised for years? In a word, yes.

Ac­cel­er­ate has a switched-on sparkle, rem­i­nis­cent of the REM of old. No co­in­ci­dence then, that Michael Stipe ref­er­ences clas­sics (I Be­lieve, Feel­ing Grav­ity’s Pull) on the homage-laden Sing for the Sub­ma­rine. All the way through there are flashes of those bril­liant IRS years, but this is the sound of a band chan­nelling their early en­ergy rather in­dulging in nos­tal­gic re­treads. One cho­rus echoes the con­tem­pla­tive urge of Swan Swan Hum­ming­bird, while Hollow Man nods to Sit­ting Still.

Per­haps the most in­spired as­pect of the album is its brevity. True to its ti­tle, Ac­cel­er­ate zips past in 34 foot-tap­ping min­utes. Revved-up rock-outs dom­i­nate, in­clud­ing Liv­ing Well’s the Best Re­venge and the sin­gle, Su­per­nat­u­ral Su­per­se­ri­ous, with their fiery gui­tar licks. But bal­lads are some­thing REM have al­ways ex­celled at, and Un­til the Day Is Done has a folky, fron­tier feel.

Stipe’s grav­elly tim­bre is age­ing well. Peren­ni­ally out­spo­ken, there are po­lit­i­cal ob­ser­va­tions: On Hous­ton, lilt­ing Ham­mond and Buck’s trade­mark man­dolin un­der­score a postKa­t­rina state­ment: “If the storm doesn’t kill me/the gov­ern­ment will”.

REM has al­ways been a fe­ro­cious live band, and th­ese songs drip with vigour – even the duds (the ti­tle track and I’m Gonna DJ). In 2008, they’ve found their mojo, re­claim­ing the puls­ing, pol­ished sound they once did so well. Sing for the Sub­ma­rine has a slightly wist­ful, pin­ing tone, but you know this is a band look­ing for­ward, not back.

“This is where it be­gins,” they sing on one track, and there’s no more heart­en­ing procla­ma­tion about where REM are now. www.remhq.com SINÉAD GLEE­SON Down­load Tracks: Un­til the Day Is Done, Sing for the Sub­ma­rine, Man Sized Wreath

Su­per­se­ri­ous them: REM are back in form

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