REM – Accelerate

July 15, 2008 by  

I haven’t bought an REM album since “Reveal”, and I only listened to it once before being very tempted to throw it out the window of my car. I was so disappointed after a pretty good effort with the “The Man on the Moon” soundtrack, and not only was the album pretty boring except for a few tracks–Stipe just seemed to lose it with the lyrical edge.

REM was one of my favorite bands growing up. I not only enjoyed the music, but the lyrics were so abstract and thought provoking–I used to spend hours reading the lyrics to songs, trying to figure out what Stipe was trying to say–if anything. It was great times.

Even with “Monster”, probably one of the weaker efforts during a time when they were still culturally relevant, and Stipe still had game, there was something to discover.

But after “New Adventures of Hi-Fi”, things just started going downhill. I actually was more of a fan of “Up” than most people I knew–and though there was definitely something lacking, I thought some of the tracks were well done, and I still thought lyrically it was sound. It was still Stipe.

But after that, REM’s music just seemed so branded, especially on “Reveal”. It felt like some studio produced the living hell out of it, and some impostor wrote the lyrics. The songs were just…dumb. There really wasn’t another way to look at the album. And it just signaled the decline of the band itself, though some say it goes back to “Up”.

With “Into the Sun”, I was so bored by the free listening I got from AOL that I didn’t even bother buying it. It was drab, pointless, infuriatingly simple. It didn’t remotely sound like anything REM had ever done. After that I officially ended my run with REM, and decided to only listen to the stuff that I cherished growing up–trying to re-identify with songs that I had taken so many journeys with as a youth.

But there are only so many times you can try and revisit something before it is so familiar, there is nothing left to extract. And that’s what REM became. They reached the Zenith–there was nowhere to go but…down. And it was pretty depressing to realize this because I still felt like they had something left in the tank…ANYTHING…just ONE more thing.

Well, if “Accelerate” is that thing, I can accept it. The album moves. Its sound is reminiscent of “Monster” in that it’s very LOUD. It’s also very stripped down, simple, in your face. There are only 11 tracks, and the album is over before you know it. That’s not very REM like, but after what they’ve been dishing out the last few years, I’ll gladly take it.

The distortion trembles, feeling like every pluck of a guitar string by Peter Buck is smoothly integrated into a wall of sound–each chord progresses predictably but is warmly embraceable, because you know somewhere it will get…Buck-like. And of course it does, and though some tracks feel a bit over produced even for being stripped down, it’s never to the point of destroying the groove.

What made me love Stipe’s lyrics, as I alluded to earlier, was how impenetrable some of them were. I still don’t know what some of his songs are about, and sometimes I think he doesn’t either. But his poetry was absolutely masterful.

He’s lost that. Somehow, he just doesn’t seem to bring that same kind of depth to his words and the flow that he used to possess just doesn’t seem present anymore. I don’t know if that’s because he’s just not in it anymore, or if he is trying too hard to make a point about things. But he never used to use cliche phrases like “Living Well is the Best Revenge”–how could he get so retread?

Because of the flow of the music, however, and because the music was indeed LOUD enough to drown out Stipe’s inferior lyrics, it does not take away from “Accelerate”. I keep wanting to believe Stipe did it on purpose–strip down lyrics like strip down the music–go back to basics.

But then I remember how that sound was never lost with REM–from “Murmur” to “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”–wit a few exceptions. But while the sound may have been found again with “Accelerate”–the poetry of the lyrics still remain…unfounded.

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