R.E.M. has put out many critically acclaimed albums over its 30-plus years of existence. It would be a bold statement to claim that “Collapse Into Now,” its 15th album, is the best yet. So I’ll say it’s the second-best yet.
1983’s “Murmur” is the only exception (and an exceptional exception at that) in my mind that R.E.M. outdoes “Collapse Into Now,” but thus album finds greatness in a largely different manner than the band’s breakthrough album. R.E.M. was a pioneer of the “college rock” scene, a genre emphasizing modest attitudes and attacks. On “Collapse Into Now,” the group often veers into legitimate rock ‘n’ roll.
The opening tracks, “Discoverer” and “All The Best,” dive headlong into the mood. Vocalist Michael Stipe’s lyrics aren’t any less profound than normal, but the choruses are enough to make the listener’s head rock along. Single “Mine Smell Like Honey” rocks less, but is plenty uplifting.
The group seems to come through even when the lyrics aren’t up to snuff.
“Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” has lyrics that are less than sensible, but Stipe builds up momentum (along with guest vocalist Peaches) and everything turns out OK. The group still delivers when it slows things down, however. “It Happened Today” (featuring Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder) and “Überlin” are more typical R.E.M. fare, and the band is comfortable on the songs.
The most impressive moment on the album happens during “Blue,” the concluding track that lives up to its name in terms of emotions. After Patti Smith’s guest vocals end, the song seems to be fading out when a rising guitar adds an unexpected 30-second concluding statement. As a song ending, this is pretty good. As an album ending, this is excellent.
R.E.M. might not be as “college rock” as they once were in terms of genre, but there is no doubt this album is great for a college, or any, audience.