Tuesday, March 8, 2011

R.E.M. Collapse Into Now - thoughts

So I was all set to post my thoughts on this record - after all, today is release day in the USA.

Having lived with this for a week or so, though, my initial impressions have given way to something else: boredom.

I want to like this record. I want to LOVE it. I want my R.E.M. back, even given that they're only 3/4 of their former self. I thought Accelerate was a promising reawakening of the band's spirit (though it hasn't held up as much as I'd have liked it to three years down the road) and I had high hopes for this record.

The problem with Collapse Into Now, though, is deep. The thing is, I neither like nor dislike it. In fact it's so "meh" that I have a hard time putting my thoughts into words. It's too safe. It's too revisionist. It's too little, and it's too much. Is it possible that the worst thing to say about this record is how inoffensive it is?

There are moments on here that are indeed transcendent: "Oh My Heart", "It Happened Today" and "Blue" come to mind as really good songs and well executed on this record. But will any of them have real lasting power? When discussing R.E.M. on the porch of the old folks home in 2030 will any of these songs come into play?

I used to actively despise "Mine Smell Like Honey" when it was first made available a month or so ago. Now, rather than complete dislike, it's just "there". Mainly what I don't like about it is Stipe - not that the lyrics are retarded (they are), but just that he adds nothing of value to the song. In fact that can be said about most of these songs here: Michael Stipe, formerly an amazing vocalist (nevermind the actual lyrical content of Stipe in years past), is reduced to simply a disposable component. Which is about the worst thing you can say about him. Barring the three tracks mentioned above, and occasional moments on a few other songs, I'd frankly prefer instrumentals.

I know it's a fool's errand to expect another Reckoning / Fables / even Automatic For The People. But what's missing from this record that was a commonality to all previous fantastic R.E.M. records? Bill Berry. He was the emotional heart of the band, the one with the strongest "no bullshit" meter. Would Berry have tolerated recent R.E.M. records? I don't know. For all I know they would have been the same, more or less, even with Berry. But I certainly can't blame former manager Jefferson Holt's sudden forced dismissal immediately prior to the release of 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi for the stunning decline in R.E.M.'s songwriting since, unless he was even more valuable to the band than anyone could imagine.

So there you have it. Frankly while I continue to listen to this boring record, my heart is more set on the upcoming Feelies LP because with them, you know what to expect and anything more is a bonus.


  1. Holy crap! There's a new Feelies lp coming out? Now I'm excited. While I do love early R.E.M., I'm way more interested in a new Feelies release. Thanks for the heads up, and for all your hard work.

  2. Interesting points. I hadn't thought about Stipe being a non-entity here, but in a way you're spot on. I've argued that he is one of the most brilliant melodicists in rock, finding great melody lines in the backing tracks provided by Buck and Mills. On this, though, his work seems more pedestrian, less adventurous.

    Here's my take: http://bit.ly/hlyA9I

  3. Agree that 'Accelerate' sounded like a re-energised REM following the god-awful 'Reveal' and 'Around the Sun'. I also agree that the new one is neither one thing nor the other. Disagree tho' about 'It Happened Today' as a highlight. For me, it's one of the most embarrassing things they have seen fit to release since 'Shiny Happy People'. Musically about a 'meh' as it gets, and lyrically probably Stipe's weakest to date.

    I do like 'Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter' and 'Discoverer', but otherwise, a let-down following the promise of its predecessor.

  4. I feel your pain. I too feel that the soul of REM left with Bill Berry. They are a shadow of what they once were. I keep getting their releases hoping for something more but they get tossed in the bin soon after.

  5. I hated Automatic and haven't bothered since. I may have missed some good songs but there was some trash on that record that just made me give up. Sorry you wasted your time.

  6. I totally agree with you. I doubt this will end up a permanent part of my collection. Meh indeed!

  7. Some things that sadden me most about modern-day REM:

    - The way Peter Buck, one of the most distinctive guitarists of his day, is happy to belt out non descript power chords rather than play to his strengths. Yeah sure there's the occasional mandolin strum but he only became known for that from Green / Out of Time anyway.

    - The bombastic drums are deafening and lack any subtlety. They make Don Gehman's work on pageant seem timid.

    - Stipe almost always sings in first person, something he used to strive to avoid.

    - They recruit left-field guest artists to give them an air of left-fieldedness they gave up a long time ago.

    - Their once mystic artwork is bland and corporate

    - Stipe's weirdness was such that his lyrics were deep, nonsensical, cryptic, thought-provoking and funny all at once. Now that they're almost always literal, he has to resort to dumb nursery rhyme stuff (Alligator, Antipasto, Whatever...) or even worse, namedropping songs (Marlon Brando etc).

    Anyway, I actually came on here to ask what do you think is behind their name dropping of New Order in 'That Someone Is You'? I'm sure I remember an interview in the 80s where they criticised 'depressing' bands like New Order....

  8. wow - in almost 100% agreement with the main post (the three songs mentioned as transcendent do little for me (though the second half of It Happened Today is brilliant) and M1 almost 100%.

    stipe: linear lyrics full of nonsense and cliches (earned my wings?!?!?) plus how many times does he use the word "hey" on this album? further plus: the guy doesn't even actually sing much anymore.

    i played fables the other day. damn, this album makes me sad.