Monday, May 5, 2008
Accelerate - REM
SCQ Rating: 67%
If there’s one thing everyone loves more than an underdog, it’s the second coming of a once untouchable rock act. Each year the music press collectively loses their rocks over one of these bands with varied merit for enthusiasm – remember the extravagant celebration of Green Day’s American Idiot – and the billions of dollars wrapped up in band reunions (Led Zeppelin, The Police, Pink Floyd, Spice Girls) indicate this universal desire to hoist our old favourites back upon a weathered pedestal. 2008’s chosen band might well be REM, whose recent discography has presented a slew of underwhelming experimentation and wasted promise. For every new direction explored, REM seemed less and less vital and that, in and of itself, was enough to put their comeback into momentum. Longevity, it seems, is a cause celebre for the ringtone generation.
To the band’s credit, REM’s cresting wave was largely due to their own dedication. With the release of their second Best Of compilation (And I Feel Fine… The Best of the I.R.S. Years), REM set out on what would become their most passionate (and electric) tour in well over a decade. And maybe rehashing all those I.R.S.-era memories made Stipe, Buck and Mills realize that sounding like REM isn’t such a raw deal after all, as Accelerate sees the band both reclaiming their rock and roll spirit and the majority of their long-suffering fans.
To put this review into perspective, I’m not one of those fans. Although my interest in the band can be marked from Automatic for the People and Monster through to New Adventures in Hi-Fi, making me a casual fan at best, no previous REM education is necessary when listening to ‘Living Well is the Best Revenge’, a race-from-the-gate rocker that displays a confidence that shuns self-consciousness and charisma that defies any notion that the band might be bored in their old stomping ground. The following three songs maintain a similar use of pace and volume, with the harmonized swagger of ‘Man-sized Wreath’ and first single ‘Supernatural Superserious’ both supplying memorable hooks.
Despite the initial excitement of hearing REM back on their alternative rock throne, there’s a notable uniformity to these eleven songs that, through direct songwriting and raw production, unveil Accelerate to be a merely decent rock album that won’t share the stage with their string of past classics. Songs like ‘Mr. Richards’ and the tense title track may comply with ideal listening for a summer afternoon but their lack of dimension is as obvious as their accessibility. Signs of melodic genius remain but are lulls purposefully placed to emphasize imminent guitar riffs; after the stunning piano that opens ‘Hollow Man’, for example, the veteran trio jumps into a joyful chorus that would sound appropriate on the mid-90s Friends soundtrack.
At a tight 32 minutes, the record’s effortless flow is only damned by the absence of a crucial song that might rival the considerable single status this band unloaded in the 80s and 90s. Despite many pleasant moments, Accelerate can’t deliver a single of that caliber and, for that reason above all others, predestines this album to serve as a beacon for REM-awareness in 2008 and not one of the band’s best albums. In the canon of classic bands returning to form, Accelerate is a satisfying effort but if this record is still making headlines by December, 2008 will have proven to be a lackluster year.