Looking forward, not back
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