Collapse Into Now

R.E.M.’s 2008 release, Accelerate, lived up to its name as the band jettisoned softer ballads to jet through a collection of succinct blazing rockers. In comparison Collapse Into Now is a reflection of the band’s 30 year history. The 12 tracks on this disc offer a mix tempo and emotion, lots of the band’s signature jangling guitar, Mike Mills’ chiming mandolin and textured melodies, and his backing harmonies for Stipe’s distinctive vocals.

The first 2 tracks, “Discoverer,” and “All the Best” feature Buck’s grinding guitar chords and Stipe’s high octane vocals. Stipe appears to be having fun with the band’s august persona as he sings “let’s sing and rhyme/let’s give it one more time/let’s show the kids how to do it.” Those two tracks, as well as several others, prove the trio is up to the challenge of creating driving rock. But there are plenty of contemplative ballads that will draw comparisons to the songs of Automatic For the People. The band throws in a few new sounds into the mix. This includes the use of a horn section, and the occasional accordion or piano line.

R.E.M. recorded the album in four cities while touring and took time off to rewrite. Much of the work took place in Mills current home city, Portland Oregon. Additional recordings occurred in Nashville, New Orleans, and Berlin. While in Berlin the band recorded with a couple of transplanted Canadians: Peaches, a provocative performance artist who works mainly in electronic music, offers traditional backing vocals on Alligator_Aviator _Autopilot _Antimatter.” Joel Gibbs of the band Hidden Cameras similarly backs Stipes on “It Happened Today.” Eddie Vedder also appears on the track. Patti Smith, who suggested the album’s title, sings on “Discoverer.” She offers ghostly vocals to match Stipe’s spoken word on “Blue” which sounds like a tribute to Smith’s early poetry driven work. Smith’s long time guitarist, Lenny Kaye, also contributes to a couple of tracks.

Collapse Into Now is a reference to living in the moment but the band seems to be doing this by reflecting on the sounds that brought them to the dance. There is no new ground broken here. Stipes lyrics are often oblique but his attitude is mostly positive with a minimum of political attitude. Stipe, Mills, and Buck sound like contented men, even if they are facing an uncertain future. Their contract with Warner, which was epic when it was signed twenty years ago, comes to an end after this release. There are no plans for a tour but the band doesn’t seem to be worried about their future plans. To quote one of R.E.M.’s better known songs, “It’s the end of the world as we know, but I feel fine.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)