We've always kinda liked R.E.M. but have never been fans per se, so we're way more able to be objective about them than most. In the decade since original drummer Bill Berry left and the remaining members decided to soldier on, many have decried the lackluster quality of their recorded output in that time. (Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun, for those keeping score.) Fair enough, but we didn't even think much of the two that preceded them, either. (Monster, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi, for the record. No pun intended.) We figured their time was almost up.
Then, along comes Accelerate, which we happen to like. Simply stated, it sounds fresh and they seem invigorated by it. However, as some have taken to lately, we dunno if comparing it to Monster, just because they're both less jangly and rock harder--for R.E.M., anyway--does the new one any favors. (Monster is one of very few albums we've ever returned to the record store and demanded our money back. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' One Hot Minute also bears that sad distinction.) Interestingly, despite all the talk about the band's waning fanbase, what has been dwindling over the years is R.E.M.'s record sales but not their concert draw. And at this point, who else but the faithful are out there catching those shows? Well, they're in luck: they're gonna love singing along to this one.
The aforementioned trilogy of albums from the last ten years have been cited as reasons for the band to have taken a break until they had a good one in their midst. Perhaps, but as musicians we think established artists need to continually put their work out there, as long as they believe in it. Let the chips fall where they may. If per chance it doesn't really pan out, you can always get back to work and resume where you left off. Artists need to be creating as steadily as possible. Simple as that. And maybe, creatively speaking, that's what the last decade has been for R.E.M. Bottom line: as much as we may not be thrilled to listen to another lukewarm release by anybody, we certainly don't advocate waiting for inspiration to strike and hoping it gives you your (next) masterpiece. That's just dangerous. What if that phenomenal work you waited to put out there turns out to be not that great AND is poorly received by the public? What does that do to an artist's confidence?
All the great artists with longevity have a span of classics and a span of duds in their discographies. Hopefully Accelerate marks, if not another spurt of the former, then at least the beginning of a run of decent records from a band that still might have a couple of good ones left in 'em.
Highlights: "Living Well is the Best Revenge", "Supernatural Superserious", "Mr. Richards", "Horse to Water", "I'm Gonna DJ", the title track.