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.