Sunday, April 6, 2008

REM Releases New Album. Gives All The Haters the Finger

The day REM signed an $80 million contract with Warner Bros. was a watershed moment for the music business. At the time REM's star was so bright, having just completed a hugely successful world in support of their commercial and critical landmark album Monster, that signing them to the largest recording contract in history didn't seem like much of a risk. Of course, what Warner Bros. didn't anticipate was the band's departure from radio-friendly rock music towards slower, more introspective pop ballads and flirtations with soft electronic melodies.

This led to a series of albums in the late 90's and early 00's that failed to resonate with everyone except the most loyal REM fans (still, a sizeable audience, but not enough for Warner Bros. to come close to recouping their sizeable investment). Of course, this era also coincided with the mass adoption of CD burning technology and, eventually, the paradigm shift of music file sharing, which I'm sure played more than a small role in the band's declining music sales. So, by the time 2004's Around the Sun was released, REM was showing signs of creative fatigue and Warner was figuring out how to best cut their losses.

Their days as chart toppers most likely behind them for good, REM at least proves on Accelerate that there's still plenty of gas left in the tank (no pun intended). Here they sound more focus and hungry than they have in years. The songs are loud, fast and direct, (9 of the 11 tracks clock in under 4 minutes) giving the album a sound that showcases the band's exceptional chemistry. The addition of touring drummer Bill Rieflin (ex-Ministry) and second guitarist Scott McCaughey into the recording process no doubt had a lot to do with the creative direction Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills chose to take.

Songs like "Hollow Man", "Man-Sized Wreath" and "Supernatural Superserious" are indicative of the energy the band displays at their live shows. The last three albums didn't make that logical connection, leaving many outside observers wondering if the band was on its last legs. Of course, such talk was silly and ignored the fact that these guys can still bring the goods were it matters most, the stage. By crafting songs that leverage the power of the tried and true drums, bass and guitar combination, REM proves they are still capable of catching lighting in a bottle in the studio too.

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