R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
It's twenty years since R.E.M. went global and ‘Losing My Religion’ became everyone’s new favourite slightly-weird song, and whilst they were one of the most significant bands of the 90s, the last decade hasn’t been so kind. After a few albums that have met with a collective shrug of the shoulders from the wider public, Collapse Into Now is the sound of a band doing what they do because they know no other way: all the classic R.E.M. elements are here, but it rather sounds like a band desperately trying to recapture the magic.
Collapse Into Now begins promisingly enough as ‘Discoverer’ gets proceedings off to a bouncy, upbeat start with Peter Buck’s jangly guitar lines bringing a smile as it conjures memories of the band in their heyday. The dour introspection in the wake of Bill Berry’s departure is well and truly gone now, but in trying to revisit old glories, most of the songs here sound too much like simple rehashes of earlier ideas.
‘All The Best’ recalls the Monster era before new single ‘Überlin’ begins channelling a distinct Automatic For The People vibe – so much so that if it were any band other than R.E.M. lawyers would be looking at copyright infringements so similar is it to ‘Man On The Moon’. ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ has the chirpy quirkiness that was such a revelation first time around on Out Of Time, and ‘Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I’ feels as if the band are trying to remember how to conjure another ‘Everybody Hurts’. After a few spins it becomes apparent that there is no stand-out masterpiece, no song that people will take to heart and treasure like they used to.
A number of high-profile guests are scattered throughout the album, but with the exception of Patti Smith, they are pretty low-key and hidden away in the background. Patti appears on the magnificent ‘Blue’ – a track that is brilliant on it own terms and if you ignore the fact that it is almost identical, if less edgy, to the last track these two did together, ‘E-Bow The Letter’ from New Adventures In Hi-Fi. It is very much a winning combination as Patti’s ethereal voice weaves around the moody guitars and sparse piano with Michael Stipe’s machine gun delivery.
As easy as it is to be disappointed by the comparative flaws of Collapse Into Now, it still exudes a buoyant air on the back of some cracking melodies alongside Stipe’s lugubrious voice and his deft turns of phrase. Many bands will wish they could craft an album as good as this, but due to the music R.E.M. used to write, the danger is this will go unloved, gathering dust on the shelf by all but the long term faithful.