EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles wrapping up 2008.
R.E.M. returned to form and ruled '08
By MATT BERRY
STATIC and FEEDBACK staff writer
When one of your favorite artists begins to enter their dreaded 40s and 50s, it’s appropriate for a fan to begin worrying about what kind of music to expect in the future. For every Neil Young, Bob Dylan, or Tom Waits that are continuing to make solid albums well into their ’50s and beyond, there are countless more that cash in with subpar efforts or try ill-fated shifts from the music that made them famous. Since the mid-’90s, R.E.M. seemed to be part of the latter group, putting out earnest records that were simply too melancholy, moody, and frankly un-R.E.M. like. With its members hovering around the dreaded age of 50, the band’s relevancy was being seriously questioned.
Then, in 2007, word came that R.E.M.’s newest album would be a return to its rock roots, and the hype began to build. And the album, Accelerate, did not disappoint. From the first moment of the album, you knew that everything was as it was. At its best, Accelerate is as good and as heavy as the band’s mid-’90s rockers like New Adventures in Hi-Fi. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” opens the album at frenetic speed, with Peter Buck’s guitar far more distorted than on previous efforts. “Man-Sized Wreath” and “Supernatural Superserious” would fit in well on New Adventures. The album is not all balls-to-the-wall hard rock, however. “Until the Day is Done” sounds like an outtake from Automatic for the People, “Houston” reminds one of the high points from the band’s recent albums, and “Hollow Man” evokes much of the band’s mid-‘80s heyday.
It may not be the strongest or most consistent R.E.M. effort, but any fan would tell you that it’s exactly what they were looking for after a long stretch of disappointment. Much like Pearl Jam’s eponymous 2006 record, the album embraces much of the experimentation from the early-Oughts, but at the same time goes back to what made the band famous in the first place. Rarely have artists approaching mandatory retirement age made such a strong rock album. You just need to give The Stooges’ weak reunion effort the Weirdness a listen to see how poorly it can go. Luckily, R.E.M. not only avoided making a tired, cliché record, it made the best album of the year.
MY OTHER IRRELEVANT RUMINATIONS ON 2008:
Other Albums Worth Picking Up: The Black Keys — Attack & Release; The Raconteurs — Consolers of the Lonely
Best Song: “The Beach” by Dr. Dog. While Fate may not have been as solid as their 2007 album We All Belong, this track was easily the best of the year for me.
Best Film Not Named The Dark Knight: Wall-E. Yes, I may have the sensibilities of a seven year old, but rarely have I left a film with such sheer awe and amazement as I did after Wall-E. Pixar’s greatest masterpiece had the best computer animation ever put on film, a touching and relevant storyline, a brilliant script, and sympathetic characters that rarely speak a word. Other films worth noting: Pineapple Express, Iron Man, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I realize it’s not a great or perfect film, but I’d waited my entire life for it).
Best New Television Series: Testees. Surprisingly funny show that any fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will be able to appreciate.
Best Returning Show that I Finally Started to Like: 30 Rock. I have always hated Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan, but, damn it, they may be the best parts of this brilliantly fast paced, insane show.
Best Sports Moments: Georgia’s 52-38 destruction of LSU was the only bright spot of the college football season, but Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons made believers out of me all season long en route to their first playoff berth since 2004.
E-mail Matt Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org
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