OK, then, I must admit I’ve been sceptical about this one, so disillusioned by “Around The Sun” (three good, if woefully overproduced, songs notwithstanding) that I didn’t even bother to check out any bootlegs of those “live rehearsal” gigs from Dublin last year. . . More fool me, it transpires.
If “Around The Sun” was a glossy attempt to update the moods of “Automatic For The People”, “Accelerate” looks further back into REM’s terrific back catalogue for inspiration. The mixture of crunch and jangle from Peter Buck, the generally speedier pace, Michael Stipe stuffing far too many words into each line while Mike Mills gamely tries to keep up with his harmonies, the attractive gothic woodiness of the folk ballads – all this reminds me a lot of how the band sounded circa “Lifes Rich Pageant” and “Document”.
It’d be mighty rash to suggest “Accelerate” was the equal of those albums, but it certainly draws on their energies. This is not a perfect record, by any stretch, but it is one that improves with every listen, and which this morning sounds pretty much like the best REM effort since “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” (and I like “Up” and “Reveal” more than most critics, I suspect).
The opener, “Living Well’s The Best Revenge” is, I think, the most straightforwardly exciting song they’ve recorded since “So Fast, So Numb”, a breathless hurtle which seems designed to prove they’re still capable of this dynamic, heady, heavily-textured kind of rock. It’s a point which’ll be made ad nauseam in reviews of “Accelerate”, but Buck’s return to electric prominence is both striking and massively welcome. I remember interviews with Stipe and Mills circa “Around The Sun” talked of how Buck busied himself in the studio stocking up their iPods. This time, mercifully, he seems to have contributed a lot more – or contributed a lot more of the sound which REM’s fans generally want from him – to the record.
“Accelerate”, in fact, sounds like the record REM’s fans wanted them to make, not necessarily the record REM may have wanted to make. It’s a small complaint, I guess, when professional pragmatism sounds as good as this. I don’t want to write too much on the specific tracks, not least because I’ve got a very long review to file for the mag in the next few days.
But it’s just under 35 minutes long, and only one of the 11 tracks (“Sing For The Submarine”) outlasts its welcome. “I’m Gonna DJ” you’ll probably know from recent tours and last year’s live album; it’s the worst song here, I think. Besides “Living Well’s The Best Revenge”, I’m currently taken with “Mansized Wreath” (improbably funky work from Mills), the fuzzed-out raga of “Mr Richards” (shades of “Time After Time” maybe) and another breakneck thriller called “Horse To Water”.
If anyone saw the Dublin shows or has listened to the bootlegs, let me know what you think. Judging by “Accelerate”, I really should have believed the hype.