RIB's Matthew and Geoff G. attended an R.E.M. Accelerate "Listening Party" last Friday at Warner Bros. headquarters, where we ate pizza, listened to the record (due April 1) and let them pick our brains about it. Here are the track-by-track reviews those two fine music critics posted afterwards at Murmurs.com. UPDATE: One of those critics has rethought his opinion after a second (and third, and fourth...) listen.
I always hate new albums the first time I hear them - Monster is a prime example - so this should be taken with a grain of salt, but, as someone pointed out at the listening party, Accelerate would definitely have made a great EP.
Let's do a track-by-track, but, let me warn you, the details are slipping away even as I type:
Living Well is the Best Revenge: Base hit in the gap. Somone said the mix was a letdown after the Dublin shows, but I avoided the Dublin shows mainly and so I really enjoyed this one. A very good opener that got me psyched for what was to come. I wish I had the notes in front of me (they made us turn them in at the end), because it's hard to remember details. But I really was caught up in Buck's guitar work, as the song seriously kicked ass. I believe there was a crunching solo in this one.
Man-Sized Wreath: Solid base hit. Reminded me a great deal of Lifes Rich Pageant, and even Stipe uses the term "pageantry" in the opening lines. Keeps up the fast pace of the record. Me likey so far. Can't remember too much more than that at the moment.
Supernatural Superserious: Double, two runs score. You already know this one. The catchiest tune on the record and the right choice for the first single.
Hollow Man: Strike one. You can really hear Stipe's smoking come through on this one, which I believe someone likened to Make It All Okay as a sorta sappy youth-targeted ditty. Did not like this one really at all, and it hurts the momentum built up by the first three tracks, going back and forth from slow to fast.
Houston: Ball. Too short for me to get much of an impression, honestly. Didn't knock my socks off though. I think there were some cool organs, though? Or was that Hollow Man? Shows how little this one got to me....
Accelerate: Double, run scores. Some people didn't like this one, but I did. Loved Mills' bass. Guys, was this the one where Mike kept singing even after the song was finished? That was awesome and a bold statement, I think, about the return of Mills' vocals.
Until the Day is Done: Intentional walk. It's okay. I like the instrumentation, but if you didn't love it before, it's practically the same thing we heard on Anderson Cooper. Very MOR. I guess I could like it, but back in the day I would have expected a bit more. Post Around the Sun, however, I'll take it.
Mr. Richards: Ground out, double play. Ugh. Did not like this one, from the very first moment of the What's-the-Frequency-Kenneth?-light opening onwards. It does nothing for me lyrically, either.
Sing for the Submarine: Strikes out looking on three straight pitches. Horrid. He recycles old songs and it does not work. My comments to Warner Bros. Records: "If I never hear the phrase 'electron blue' again, it will be way too soon." It's almost like Stipe is saying, well, we wrote some shitty songs, but let's praise them anyway in another shitty song.
Horse To Water: Triple. One of the best songs on the album. And like the best songs, it is just a fun rocker that you don't have to analyze, just enjoy. Possibly the best of the bunch, as some people felt.
I'm Gonna DJ: Solid base hit, run scores. I have been on the fence with this one, but I think it works here. For some reason Stipe's voice sounded strange to me. But I like it. It fits the mood of the album and this is much better than some live versions I've heard.
OVERALL: They fixed one of the two problems with Around the Sun. This record is urgent, the production is crisp, and the music kicks ass. Mills is in near-full glory, as is Buck, and I swear I heard some drums, too! However, Stipe still doesn't have a whole lot to say. The rockers were great, because they are quick and powerful and fun. Anytime, however, you pay more attention to Stipe than to Buck or Mills, it's very disappointing. The lyrics were not as foul, upon first listen, as ATS, but I am not sure how many spins the lesser tracks are gonna get or how much depth they will reveal in the end.
In all, this album is much, much better than ATS by a long shot. And they sound a lot more vibrant than they deserve to be. I had let my expectations get a bit too high though: R.E.M. is still okay, but they are not in their prime and this is no NAIHF. They are as vibrant as any nearly 30-year-old band ever, but is that a compliment or a knock?
Great music, sometimes hobbled by laughable lyrics.
(That being said, I can't process lyrics, meaning, or story on the first listen of an album -- so that assessment is based on the snippets I caught. I need another listen to tell you what all the songs were about -- but I there were definitely some eyerolls around the room.)
Having the guitars back was great -- but, as someone at the party pointed out, it is a totally different style of "rocking" than Monster. Dirtier and more muddled...which is a good thing. Most reports have described the album as Monster-like and that doesn't seem the case to me.
I hadn't heard any of the songs prior, except for SS/SS, so it was all fresh to me.
Living Well/Mansized -- Honestly, these two have blended together as one in memory. It was exciting to hear the speed and power...but they just rocked and really didn't stand out on first listen.
SS/SS -- Nothing new to see here. Interesting to note, however, there were almost no pauses between the songs. Less then a second break between each one. It made a fast album "feel" even faster.
Hollow Man -- Something has been developing for the past three tracks. This idea of "Accelerate". Hollow man feels like a full stop. Soundtrack for a show on The WB. Utterly translucent lyrics with not much else going on. The first huge letdown of the album. It colors the way you think of everything you hear after it.
Houston -- And then this, I really liked. If the whole album sounded like this, I'd love it. Slow, a little spooky and very measured.
Accelerate -- Solid rocker.
UTDID -- Here is where I thought the album was really starting to show itself again. At the time, I wrote "highlight of the album so far" on my little piece of paper, but I'd need to hear it again.
Mr. Richards -- The most affecting track. My musical comparisons are usually considered way off, but here's what it reminded me of: The Who's Tommy. Take from that what you will.
Sing for the Submarine -- People guffawed on "electron blue". Felt like the longest track.
HTW -- Another solid rocker. There's definitely a pattern here -- the rockers haven't sorted themselves out in my head yet. They're all good, but not distinct in a noticable way.
DJ -- Great silly little record ender. There are really people on here who don;t like this song? It's like Superman or Wilco's Late Greats -- just a nice little treat before to bed.
Overall: Relax. It's gonna be fine. There's going to be disagreement over certain tracks -- but mainly about whether they "fit" or not. There's alot of identity going on in this record, but alot that makes you wonder if your notion of that identity is valid.