Picking up where 2008’s Accelerate left off, R.E.M.’s latest studio offering Collapse Into Now finds the long tenured act looking to the past in order to rediscover their classic pop imbued swagger, though that experiment doesn’t always work this time around. The band succeeds in the simple fact that Collapse sounds very similar to Accelerate, though it doesn’t do anything in the way of breaking new ground for the pop pioneers.
In keeping with the pattern R.E.M. set forth with Accelerate, most of Collapse is comprised of middling up-tempo rockers ("All the Best," "Mine Smells Like Honey") that fail to discern themselves from one another, sometimes even coming off as disposable ("Discoverer"). It’s the album’s quintuplet of ballads that really gives the work breadth however, with "Me, Marlon Brando and I" coming across as the album’s most charming. The pair of "Uberlin" and "Oh My Heart" feels inspired by the one of the trio of cities in which Collapse was recorded (Berlin), but for as endearing as some of these ballads come across, the band cannot escape the fact that frontman Michael Stipe’s age is finally catching up to his vocal abilities, which is evident in "Everyday Is Yours to Win" and "Walk It Back," two songs that cannot help but sound far too rigid and vocally stiff.
And speaking of Stipe, his once playful, and quick witted and mesmeric lyricism has now turned irrelevant and somewhat lazy, which is clearly evident throughout the majority of the cuts off of Collapse.
Take nothing away from Collapse Into Now because, it really isn’t all that bad of a pop work, though honestly, it appears as if R.E.M. is now a mere shell of their former selves. But if you like R.E.M., you’ll probably find something to like on Collapse Into Now. Any follower of this band knows that they have the ability to sound better than this, but we might have to wait another three years before they try again.
Listen to: "Me, Marlon Brando and I"