R.E.M. returns to form in the truest sense
By MATT BERRY
STATIC and FEEDBACK staff writer
The impact R.E.M. has had on the city of Athens, Georgia, is immeasurable. Their formation and success in the 1980s helped cement the city’s reputation as one of the most vibrant and important areas for music in the country. They are most likely the reason why Wuxtry Records, where the band first got to know each other, is still open and thriving in an age of digital music. They have influenced this town right down to the politics, as their support has been known to sway local elections. In this town so obsessed with University of Georgia football, there are a few people whose names you absolutely have to know: Larry Munson, Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker, and, last but not least, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and (until recently) Bill Berry.
So when a new R.E.M album comes along, everyone in this town knows it. When their latest, Accelerate, was released this week, Wuxtry Records continued their tradition of holding midnight sales on Monday night, a practice now relegated to the release of a new Halo sequel or Hannah Montana tickets. I couldn’t make it to the midnight premiere or the Sunday night listening party at local venue The Melting Point, but I made sure to grab my copy from Wuxtry on Tuesday morning.
My initial reaction when hearing this album was, “That’s more like it.” There was nothing wrong with R.E.M’s post-Bill Berry catalog, but it was dramatically different than the band’s earlier work. The last ten years have produced some quality work from the band (“The Great Beyond,” “Imitation of Life”), but it left something to be desired for fans of their earlier frenetic energy. Accelerate features sounds which span the band’s long history and stacks up sonically with any of their classic albums.
As a huge fan of New Adventures in Hi-Fi (which I consider one of the two or three greatest albums of the 1990s, barely edging out Automatic for the People in my book), the melodies and raw electric sound were quite welcome. “Supernatural Superserious,” “Living Well is the Best Revenge” and “Horse to Water” are all fast-paced rockers that would fit well on New Adventures. “I’m Gonna DJ” mixes in the better parts of Document and Out of Time with its apocalyptic lyrics combined with a funky, punky rythym. The ballads (“Until the Day is Done, “Houston”) could be listed as B-sides to Automatic for the People and no one would doubt it for a second, and “Hollow Man,” probably the best track on the album, is a call back to their early-80s heyday.
As you may be able to tell, there’s not much in the name of innovation on Accelerate. And that’s exactly why it’s such a good album. The band has had its hand at trying new things, with varying degrees of success. Now, they’ve gone back and done what made them one of the most influential bands of the last thirty years. It may not be the equal to some of their classic albums, but it makes us remember why those albums are considered classics.