Sunday, October 2, 2011

....and into the present for R.E.M.'s swan song

This week we take on R.E.M.'s 2011 "Collapse Into Now"

Right from the opening chords of "Discoverer" the ringing tones of Monster come to mind - if crossed with a heaping dose of shine-pop from the "Out of Time" days.  Self-referential, maybe, but fresh enough to not sound like a photocopy of days gone by.  Hearing this after news of the breakup came around, this song in particular sounds autobiographical - with lyrics like "Just the slightest bit of finesse / might have made a little less mess" that seem to reference drummer Bill Berry's departure from the band in the mid-90's and the uncertainty that followed.

R.E.M. kept on after Berry's departure, but it was hard to imagine what they might become afterwards.  Through each successive album they turned to drum machines and synth-pop flourishes to fill in the gap left by Berry - and pleasant music though it was, much of it hardly sounded like a band - or when it did, the programmed nature of the percussion was too obvious.  Collapse Into Now closes R.E.M.'s 30+ years on the musical landscape with a disc that sounds far more like a band than most of their output of the early 2000's did.  Again, the music seems to reference their history - "Uberlin" speaks of "chasing" - and one can't help but think it references chasing perfection.  R.E.M. may not have always hit that high but they never stopped trying.  The yearning acoustic chords wrapped in eerie minor key dirge notes paint a haunting picture of this pursuit - quite a left turn from the optimistic blast of the album's opening track.

"Haunting" is a fine adjective for many of the tracks to be found here.  The stirring "Oh My Heart" is once again laden with low-key sounds, yet evokes a strange happy beauty all its own - the same kind of sweet melancholy they mined so well with earlier tracks like "Nightswimming".    

Perhaps the only strange track is "Aligator/Aviator/Autopilot/Antimatter" - it swaggers and swings and falls all over the place and doesn't seem to quite fit in well with the rest of the disc - it isn't introspective like "All The Best" nor does it punch like "Mine smell like honey".

Later on they continue into a song that sounds even more elegiac given news of the breakup - "It Happened Today" speaks of someone who has "earned his voice" and is immediately followed by "Every day is yours to win" - these speak of equal parts humility and pride at all they have accomplished since they first played music together.  

Many believe R.E.M. continued on longer than they should have.  In truth, no band ever releases all perfect albums.  And even including the stumbles, whichever albums you may think deserve that label, R.E.M. showed a perseverance and a dedication to just simply making music they cared about that is not seen nearly enough in today's landscape.

The sentiments of "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I", and the spoken-word piece "Blue", close out a talented work and provide a fine send-off for a great band.

No comments:

Post a Comment