R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

R.E.M.s last studio album, possibly ever! At last my long nightmare of listening to one of my favourite bands is nearly over!

 

This one continues their renaissance as talented elder-statesmen alt-rockers, which is nice, but there’s little of the experimentation and catchiness that was in play last time, and way more ballads, resulting is a much duller and less memorable album, even if it’s still a solid listen.

There’s also far more callbacks to old songs – “Discoverer” is like “Lotus”, U-Berlin is like “Drive”, “Oh My Heart” and “It Happened Today” are super like “New Test Leper”, which was never my favourite mostly-acoustic rambler, even though the band seem to love washing its leprous balls when it gets the chance to talk about it, and “Blue” is so very “E-Bow The Letter”, complete with Patti Smith singing the chorus again.

Like every album since the mid-90s, there’s a solid contingent of flyover songs – including most of the ballads and a couple of the rockers. That said, of the memorable songs, most are memorable for good reasons instead of bad. “Discoverer” has a great buzzing guitar sound (even if the chorus is tacked on), “It Happened Today” ends with gorgeous wordless harmonies, “Mine Smell Like Honey” has a great title, “Walk It Back” is a proper old-man trope namer, “That Someone Is You” is the one song on here that tries something new and totally succeeds (it’s like 80s pop-punk! cute!), and “Blue”… well, I personally never get tired of spoken-word art shit, and that Finnegans Wake wraparound into “Discoverer”, while nothing new, is new for R.E.M. and also works.

But here’s something that doesn’t work, and makes me a bit glad for the breakup: Michael Stipe has a new penchant for fast-paced, often stupid aabb rhymes. “This is not a parable / This is so terrible” or “I feel like an alligator / When I’m on the escalator” or “This is not a lie / It’s not all cherry pie” – it’s a disturbing trend from a band that once led the world in neat-o pensive, wonderfully opaque lyrics. Though he does pull out some old magic in “Blue” with the tearjerking “I want Walt Whitman proud / Patti Smith proud / My sisters proud” talk.

So, this album isn’t quite Myspace Top 8 worthy, but give it a couple million (on CD) spins, R.E.M. may not go out on top, but they go out with not a whimper, but with a dignified handshake and a respectable blowing out of the candles.

7 / 10

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