Collapse Into Now

by R.E.M.

One of the worst things that can happen in the world, besides your beloved fast food item being inexplicably removed from the menu, is coming to terms with the fact that one of your favourite bands just canít cut it anymore. But we should remember that every band has a shelf life, and that most bands still continue to kid themselves that they can produce at the very top level, even when they clearly canít. Itís a crying shame for sure.

boom - REM Collapse Into Now album image

Take R.E.M. Formed in 1980, theyíve produced some incredible songs over the years. Not only that, but lead singer Michael Stipe has to have one of the most unique and memorable vocals in modern music history.

Collapse Into Now is, quite remarkably, their fifteenth studio album. After an astounding 31 years in the business, you donít really expect a band to produce anything near the kind of quality they once did. But against all logic, thatís exactly what R.E.M have done.

If you played every one of their albums to someone who has never heard an R.E.M album all the way through before, and then asked them to put them in the order they were released, it would be no surprise to see this effort sit quite comfortably between 1988ís seminal Green and Ď94ís Monster; in other words, the bandís classic era.

Somehow, with the help of producer Jacknife Lee, the band has produced an album with the kind of energy you would expect from a debut offered up by a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears, indie-kid wannabes. Considering the bandís longevity, this effort defies the theory that a long in the tooth band can still produce the goods. In one sense it provides a sharp thrill, on the other hand itís a tad disturbing. What are R.E.M on? And why arenít other bands taking it? If itís the Omega 3 for their joints, boy is it working. Itís got to be that fishy, surely?

ĎDiscovererí is the opening track and is unmistakably R.E.M. Its high tempo just supports Stipeís vocals through a thumping 3 minutes and 31 seconds of pure joy. Itís a great carousel of noise to kick off with.

Not letting up in any way is ĎAll the Bestí. Guitars and drums just burst out of the speakers throughout, letting up for no man or beast. It sounds like Stipe is having a vocal duel with the rest of the band, and itís a tough call as to who actually wins.

Thereís a hint of ĎLosing My religioní about Ď‹berliní. Maybe itís Stipe and his heartfelt vocals, or the softness of the strings that support them. It possesses the kind of beauty that only R.E.M could provide.

Something thatís nice to here is the bandís use of horns throughout the album, and in particular on ĎOh My Heartí. Again, itís one of those tracks that can make you start to inexplicably well up inside. Itís truly a fragile little thing.

ĎIt Happened Todayí makes an early case for being one of the weakest tracks on the album, until it decides to hijack you halfway through with the kind of rousing chorus that just fills you with a glorious glee. Itís quite a sucker punch.

The mood changes with the arrival of ĎEveryday is Yours to Winí. Despite sounding like a cheesy self-motivation message, which it kind of is, itís delivered with the kind of production you would find on an Eels track. Itís a clever little killjoy, and all power to it.

If each track represented a human part, then ĎMine Smell Like Honeyí would be the albumís beating heart. Because of the ambiguity to nearly every R.E.M lyric ever written, itís difficult to ascertain what actually smells like honey, but weíll take Stipeís word for it. Itís a sweet track though, thatís for sure.

ĎWalk it Backí is the closest thing to a simple track; its production has a lot of space for both the vocals and instruments. Thereís a soft lull to every word that Stipe sings, making it difficult not to hang on his every word.

And winner of the best track name on an album goes to... íAligator_Aviator_Autopiliot_Antimatterí. It harks back to ĎShiny Happy Peopleí a bit, with its energetic female backing vocals, this time provided by Peaches. But unlike that track, this one takes no time at all to get going, hitting fifth gear from the off and staying their Ďtil the final bend.

ĎThat Someone Is Youí is one of those tracks that the band do so well, with its cultural name checks intact; not that it has much of a chance to with its speedy, blink-and-youíve-missed-it 1:44 duration.

Weíre also back on familiar ground with ĎMe, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and Ií. Itís a gentle beast that in grand R.E.M form makes little in the way of sense lyrically, unless you have access to Planet Stipe that is, but is still worth embarking on the journey it takes you.

Patti Smith adds her vocals to the final track ĎBlueí, thatís almost epic in every way. Itís an audible art installation, that even if you donít get it (we confess we didnít, but we rarely do) you can still appreciate all the hard work thatís gone into it. The second half to it ends with a segment from the opening track ĎDiscovererí making it the perfect bookend to finish on.

All in all, itís not only an impressive feat for a fifteenth album to sound as great as this one does, itís borderline ĎDoes Not Computeí territory. Itís an incredible achievement, thatís what it is. If youíre a long term fan, this is like one big homecoming party. But even if youíve missed the R.E.M bandwagon (in which case, where the hell have you been for the last thirty-odd years?!), this fifteenth album really isnít a bad place to start.

Classic R.E.M from start to finish, and for that we salute you.

four out of five