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Sunday, May 19, 2024

It would be hard to jump on the R.E.M. bandwagon at the release of their 14th full-length album.

While almost everyone can appreciate their influence on - and practical invention of - alternative rock, it is difficult to pick up a new album by them, knowing so much is behind it.

Consequently, this album requires putting things in a bit of perspective.

So what is there to say about an album like "Accelerate," the newest effort by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees? Admittedly, not enough to make anyone want to jump on any sort of bandwagon.

The album starts off with "Living Well is the Best Revenge," a sonic revival of earlier albums "Document" and "Green."

However, the comparison stops there.

While R.E.M. albums from the mid 1980s and even the early 90s held a certain sort of charm, the charm does not work anymore. After three critically panned albums, R.E.M. needed to make a large and drastic effort to show the world they weren't dead.

Unfortunately, the album's mediocre 35 minutes don't do that.

The band is doing all they can to keep themselves relevant. Appearing at Langerado Music Festival this year and touring with indie mainstays Modest Mouse and newcomers The National this summer, they are attempting to bring their music to a younger audience. Not to mention the sonic experimentation they went through in the 90s.

Realizing they were unsuccessful in their adaptation to different styles, they've returned to what they're known for.

While the album doesn't sound drastically different from previously acclaimed works, something is undeniably missing. It may not even be the fault of Michael Stipe and his band. The amount of evolution required to remain relevant as 50-year-old rockers might be beyond the limitations of R.E.M. as it is for almost every other band not called The Rolling Stones.

Warner Brothers Music was kind enough to allow R.E.M. to release another album, breaking the "three-strikes" rule and forgetting the dismal reception of "Up," "Reveal" and "Around The Sun." If EMI didn't own the rights to the early stuff, I'm sure Warner Brothers would have finished up R.E.M.'s contract with some compilations of, you know, good music.

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The first three songs on the album are listenable and have been almost constantly (to my chagrin) playing in my head since I've heard them.

But, for every decent song like "Man-Sized Wreath", there is a song like "I'm Gonna DJ" with lyrics so terrible it makes me miss the days where we couldn't understand what Stipe was saying (think 1984s Murmur).

There's also the case of "Houston" and "Until the Day is Done," which sound exactly the same. Having a sound that never changes is one thing; it is another to put the same song twice on one album.

I felt like I was listening to "Automatic For The People" and "Green" a few times during the record, which is both good and bad. That's what the album does, though - it stays static. It follows an old formula without any improvement.

It has some strong points that are reminiscent of their best work, but no matter how close of an imitation they compose, it will always just be an imitation.

You can remake an album as many times as you want, but apparently once you deviate from the path, you can't come back.

R.E.M. had one last chance to prove to audiences that they could still be a driving creative force in rock.

On "Until the Day is Done," Stipe sings, "The verdict is dire." Stipe was right about that: One more poorly received album and the time might be up for "the American Smiths".

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