Allow me to open this with an admission: I am a HUGE R.E.M. apologist (with the interesting exception of their 1999 single “The Apologist” off the Up record, which I did not care for (Up, however, I feel is a great collection which is better appreciated now with more years under it)). Be that as it may, I am still able of listening to the bands music critically and while I can find justification is near-every of the bands artistic decisions through the years (I really mind mind Around The Sun! And when Reveal came out, I listened to it a lot. Nowadays, not so much) I am not afraid to call out my heroes when a gamble doesn’t pay off.
Thankfully I am not having to do that today. R.E.M.’s 15th full-length album Collapse Into Now is brilliant. I am weary of calling anything created in this modern age a masterpiece and I won’t relinquish that distinction for this album, but it is close as you can get. What makes Collapse Into Now so great is they feel comfortable bouncing forth and back from pop-centric radio singles (”My Smells Like Honey,” “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter,” “That Someone is You,” “All The Best”) and moody, Bush-era Stipeian angst (”Oh My Heart,” “Walk It Back,” “Uberlin”). The flow of the album is a bit janky at times, most noticeably following the aforementioned “That Someone is You” with the beautiful, but superbly mellow “Me, Marlon Brand, Marlon Brando and I,” but that change-up sets the stage for the closing, near spoken word “blue” which references the titular concept of 20th century collapsing into the present day.
Collapse Into Now is the 2nd album in a row where lead singer Michael Stipe sings self-referential lines to the groups previous word (previously seen on Accelerates “Sing For the Submarine.”) On this albums fourth track, Stipe references “the storm didn’t kill me/the government changed” a direct reference to his line “if the storm doesn’t kill me/the government will” from the Katrina-centric song “Houston” on Accelerate. In fact, the themes in “Oh My Heart” regarding a return to a place once special and the joy to ones heart brought by this homecoming, in addition to make similarities musically, might make “Oh My Heart” a direct sequel to “Houston;” another R.E.M. first!
Choice tracks coming out of “Collapse Into Now” included all of the above mentioned songs in addition to “It Happened Today,” “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter,” “Walk It Back,” “That Someone Is You.”
Collapse into Now is an incredible album and merely knowing that this record exists returns to me hope that music, in this modern era can be saved again.