Dig A Hole, Dig It Deeper, Deeper

Once upon a time, a new R.E.M. album was a cause of much anticipation around here. And perhaps surprisingly given a series of largely disappointing albums over the last decade, a sliver of that excitement still remained for their fifteenth LP ‘Collapse Into Now’ on the off chance that Stipe and co might yet still manage to throw the odd curved ball.

The evidence of recent history suggests strongly that they won’t. Even ‘Accelerate’, their best 21st century LP, still lacked something – a little variety perhaps but certainly a couple of bona fide R.E.M. classics. Particularly when even the hugely disappointing ‘Reveal’ and ‘Around The Sun’ offered up ‘Imitation of Life’ and ‘Leaving New York’ respectively.

Well, ‘Collapse Into Now’ certainly offers the variety that ‘Accelerate’ lacked. ‘All The Best’ and ‘That Someone Is You’ hark back to the rawer edge of ‘Accelerate’ whilst the more reflective side is shown on the likes of ‘Marlon Brando’ and ‘Oh My Heart’.

But after a few plays, there are clearly no classics lurking in its grooves. Maybe it’s unfair to expect that because ‘Collapse’ suffers from the fact that it’s so blatantly an R.E.M. album.

Take the song  ‘Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter’ – it sounds EXACTLY the way you expect it to – a typical uptempo stream of consciousness that they’ve done several times before. And done better too.

Closing track ‘Blue’ is an atmospheric effort featuring a spoken word vocal. Yet it’s not just reminiscent of ‘E-Bow The Letter’, it also features a guest vocal by Patti Smith. Surely someone noticed?

And yet the LP is not without its charms, the ringing guitars of opening track ‘Discoverer’ (although perhaps more so when the song is reprised at the end of ‘Blue’,) and the wordless vocals on ‘It Happened Today’ are a couple of examples.

But there’s nothing new here at all. After 30+ plus years that’s hardly a crime. Indeed R.E.M. can, justifiably, said to have still been evolving over the first fifteen years of their career. And there’s not many can make that boast with any degree of confidence.

But ‘Collapse Into Now’ has to be judged on its on merits and however much you might like it, (and I do quite like it)  it’s undeniably a  record which, battling history or not, just isn’t going to excite.

Buy the LP here.

One of the films made for each of the songs on the record:

2 Comments

  1. Moz says:

    As an REM fan since I first saw them on The Tube in 1983, I have to agree that we have seen diminishing returns since Bill Berry left, got to say though, the new album as a whole is consistently good, their best this century. As regards the fact that it sounds like constituent parts of their back-catalogue, do you not think that after a few quantum leaps in their sound, most bands/singers start to have a certain sound that makes them easily identifiable, as if they can’t gestate any further? Despite being great innovators for years, the new Radiohead stuff sounds like err…..Radiohead! Even The Beatĺes stopped moving forward in sound from 1969, all four went solo using the post-Sergeant Pepper blueprint to see them through the ’70’s.

  2. Agree with much you say Moz but I’m not sure R.E.M. have innovated much since Billy Berry left (although they could perhaps have pushed ‘Up’ further). I don’t think it’s just that they sound like R.E.M. And as Stipe always says ‘This is what we do’.

    But compared to say Interpol, R.E.M. have had a great run (and still make better records than the young pups). ‘Collapse’ is a adecent record but I still slightly prefer ‘Accelerate’ even if it is flawed.

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