Friday, 11 March 2011

Flynndie Reviews - Blog #10: R.E.M. - Collapse into Now

Written 11th March 2011:

R.E.M. – Collapse into Now

Well, well, well, I haven’t written one of these album reviews for a while, but lately I’ve really been getting back into my Indie bands with a burning passion recently (not that my passion for Indie music ever dies of course!) but even by my standards I’ve been listening to a hell of a lot new alternative but kick-ass guitar-inspired sounds! Ranging from core Indie-rock, to acoustic-sessions, to electro-funk, to even weirdo Radiohead stuff and all topped off with a pinch of Folk-Rock! All of that has added up to the ingredients of one hell of a tasty Indie-Recipe, Yum-Yum!!

Anyway, today’s review is of a band that seems to have stood on the shoulders of the alternative, Indie guitar-God forever, and probably at some point during there long career covered each of the Indie-Ingredient Genres above from one of their many albums. Yes that’s right this week marked the return of ‘Rapid Eye Movement’, or more commonly known as R.E.M with their 15th studio album (yes 15th!) ‘Collapse into Now’. Usually, I cover a bit of history of the band I’m reviewing, but in the case of R.E.M. that would take up most of this blog itself so in short, they formed in 1980, consist of Michael Stipe (Vocals), Peter Buck (Guitar), Mike Mills (Bass) and formerly Bill Berry (Drums). Probably their most well-known song was ‘Losing My Religion’ from the 1991 ‘Out of Time’, and my personal favourite album by them was 1998’s release ‘Up’. That is all for now!

Ok, so onto 2011 and ‘Collapse into Now’. This is the band’s first album since 2008’s ‘Accelerate’, that I personally thought was a great return to form by them and took them back to their early ‘alternative, guitar-rock’ roots, which I think suits the band at their best alongside their low-fi acoustic/country offerings. So the album opener ‘Discoverer’ kicks things off with some jagged guitar from Messer Buck before the familiar ‘Hey-Hey’ vocals from Stipe come in. It’s a reasonable opener for the album and sets a nice precedent of the direction of Georgia’s finest latest offerings.

Next up ‘All the Best’ follows, which maintains the band at ‘coasting-rock’ as a like to call it, and by that I mean the track has a fast up-beat rhythm to it as in it ‘coasts’ along nicely, which swings into a chorus and so forth. Track 3 ‘UBerlin’ was a ‘love at first sight, errrm, first listen’ track for me. This is R.E.M going slightly back to their ‘Country and Western’ style sound from circa 1991-96, a particular style I always liked and thought suits them and particular Stipe’s voice. I love this track and the lyrics which seem to paint a picture of how Stipe views how modern life evolves possibly all too quickly these days. Well, that’s how I interpret his lyrics in this particular track, but that has always been a fascination with this band for me, attempting to decrypt Stipe’s purposefully cryptic lyrics.

We then move onto ‘Oh My Heart’ which I know from a previous interview with Stipe that this song was written about the City New Orleans. This is another track I liked upon first listen and deliberately has a ‘French’ feel to it as oft-associated with New Orleans with its opening brass-horn and accordion throughout. A very pleasant track, and in some ways, possibly a follow-up track to ‘Houston’ from ‘Accelerate’. ‘It Happened Today’ is another upbeat acoustic affair, nothing too special in my opinion but a nice track all the same. ‘Every Day Is Yours to Win’ follows and is slowed down R.E.M number which reminded me off their sound from their ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ days, but again a very nice, listenable track which I enjoyed.

Earlier single ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’, starts off sounding like the opening of 80’s TV show Magnum P.I. (well that was my first thought anyway), but is again another fast paced rock track with a sing-along chorus with nice backing vocals from Mike Mills. ‘Walk It Back’ is a beautiful slow piano-driven ballad and another real highlight of the album. ‘Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter’ for a start is an awesome song title, and is quick paced guitar-riff driven song, with a marching drum-beat throughout and Stipe sharing vocals with Canadian-electronic artist ‘Peaches’ through the verses and chorus while Buck nails an epic solo later in the track. ‘That Someone Is You’ keeps up the pace of the album with another fast track and the classic Stipe-Mills punchy one-two vocals in the chorus.

With yet another great song title ‘Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I’ is I’d imagine the band’s acoustic offering as tribute to the late actor, and is a very touching melodic piece as such, with Buck in fine form, possibly on mandolin, as he has been known to play on R.E.M albums in the past. I actually adore this track and as a strong, emotional song, this is possibly my favourite track on the album. Final track ‘Blue’, really reminds me initially of the track ‘Country Feedback’ from ‘Out of Time’ merged with the amazing track ‘E-Bow the Letter’ also from ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’, in terms of its slow-deliberate pacing and the echo-type effect used on Stipe’s voice for the track but particularly as it finally sees Stipe re-united with Patti Smith in a vocal duet on a R.E.M album for the first time since the aforementioned 1996 album.

So as you can probably gather from this review, I personally really rate this album by R.E.M. and not purely just as a fan of the band. During this review I’ve made a lot of comparisons to tracks having a familiar feel to R.E.M. songs of yesteryear, and while this may cause alarm bells that the band could just simply being re-hashing older material, I still feel that the band have actually written some rather strong, touching and moving songs more with subtle nods to tracks of their past legacy, rather than simply re-hashing older tracks. For me this really is a sublime R.E.M album and features some really strong, thought provoking tracks on it.

Sometimes I tend to feel some past R.E.M albums can be ‘marmite’ albums as such with some tracks you simply love and others that don’t tend to have the same type of impact on you, but I feel this particular album really keeps the listeners’ attention throughout and for this reason I’m going to give it 9 Collapses out of 10! This is a really strong R.E.M. album and I’d even go to say that this is their best release for over a decade, and even a full 21 years after forming the band still have plenty to offer and that is something I can only admire about these great, great musicians whom master their craft year-upon-year!

Think I’m Going to Collapse Now ‘Flynny’

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