Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I am flying on a star into a meteor tonight

Because I let my blog die for so long, I have missed out on some important album reviews. I will attempt to make up for all of these overlooked albums.

R.E.M. -- Collapse into Now

This album was released several months ago, so I've had plenty of time to listen to it. Everyone knows that R.E.M. is my favorite band of all time, and with their last album, Accelerate, the band sort of returned to big rock and guitars, with excellent results. Early word on Collapse into Now was that the album would be very eclectic, pulling from many of R.E.M.'s sounds throughout the years. And that's exactly what it is--an album with some hard-rocking songs, some plaintive ballads, and some complicated melodies. One critic I read said that Collapse into Now sounds like R.E.M. doing cover versions of R.E.M. songs, but I think that is an unfair criticism. When a band has been around for 29 years, some sounds are bound to come up again. I think that Collapse into Now is a great album filled with some great songs, and yes, of course it sounds like R.E.M. It is R.E.M.

As an added bonus, the band commissioned videos for each song on the album--some are "lyric videos," some are proper music videos, and some are short, abstract films.

Some highlights:

Opening song "Discoverer" really puts the album in Accelerate mode, with Peter Buck's excellent guitar work, and then Michael Stipe's first words of "Hey baby" brings us back to Monster territory, a wonderful place to be. The shouting of the chorus, the sort of off-rhythm phrasings--a great combination for a great first song. (Video)

"ÜBerlin" is a strange and beautiful song. I've posted the video before, which features British actor Aaron Johnson doing a strange dance through the streets, and the band also released a rather hypnotic lyric video. This song features a very interesting verse structure, coupled with a soaring chorus that I can easily picture thousands of people singing along to at a concert. "ÜBerlin" is fantastic, one of the highlights of the album. "I am flying on a star, star, star."

The first ballad of the album arrives with "Oh My Heart," which is a tribute to New Orleans. The music features Out of Time staples like mandolins and accordions, and the chorus has such a haunting harmony, with just the simple words "Oh my heart." As Michael sings, "it's sweet, and it's sad, and it's true." Lovely. (Video) (Lyric video)

I am not sure what the "it" in "It Happened Today," but the song is gorgeous. It starts with Stipe making fun of his own bad rhymes, while the music builds up with strumming strings. The mid-tempo beat kicks in, with Stipe's spot-on vocals singing "I have earned my voice." The song eventually builds to a reflective crescendo of voices (with Eddie Vedder on back-up). (The video is strange and interesting.)

The first radio single is the driving and fun "Mine Smell Like Honey," which sounds like classic R.E.M. meets Accelerate. Simply a great R.E.M. song. (Video)

The strangest, most lyrically fun, most danceable song on the album is the brilliantly titled "Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter," which features back-up vocals by electro-goddess Peaches. (And the video is simply bizarre, but worth checking out.) I love the pounding beat, the yelling background vocals, and everything about the chorus. "Hey hey alligator, you've got a lot to learn."

And one of R.E.M.'s most pop-rock love songs ever, "That Someone is You," just makes me smile. From the earnest feelings of the chorus to the references to "Sharon Stone, Casino" and "Scarface Al Pacino," this little under-two-minute song flies by in a rush of joy. "You pulled me up and out of cartoon quicksand."

These are the highlights for me. Collapse into Now does not break new ground for R.E.M. Instead, the band has realized what they do best and put some fresh spins on it.


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