Critical Writings

Articles and Reviews: MUSIC

Accelerate by R.E.M. (Warners)

Conventional wisdom has it that since the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1997 after his aneurism, R.E.M. have been something of a three-legged dog, the law of diminishing returns operating as the band became ever more bland with each subsequent release, Up and Reveal, reaching its nadir with 2004’s Around The Sun. Pre-release gossip had it that Accelerate represents a back-to-basics return to form, especially as many of the songs were road tested in Dublin’s Olympia last summer. While it’s not an unqualified success, it easily trumps anything else the band has done in the past ten years, with its echoes of their pre-mainstream high watermarks, Lifes Rich Pageant and Document. They sound urgent and reenergised, Buck’s guitar lines tearing out of the speakers, Stipe’s lyrics motivated – as seemingly every American rocker’s are at the moment – by disgust at the damage the dire administration they are living under has done. They seem to be bending over backwards to please: lyrics are even reproduced on the sleeve, which would never have happened in the old days of murky mixes. ‘Until The Day Is Done’ is the most pessimistic burst of anger: The battle’s been lost, the war is not won/An addled republic, a bitter refund/The business first flat earthers licking their wounds/The verdict is dire, the country’s in ruins, while ‘Houston’ deals with a Katrina survivor trying to build a new life: If the storm doesn’t kill me/The government will. These agitpop, state-of-the-nation statements are balanced by the patent silliness of closer ‘I’m Gonna DJ’, a first cousin of ‘Shiny Happy People’. All in all, 34 minutes of refreshingly fierce yet uncomplicated enjoyment.


First published in Magill magazine, June/July 2008

 

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