I’d like to add, belatedly, my voice to the chorus of praise for R.E.M.’s Accelerate. I tend to distrust comeback storylines, so for a while I distrusted my own affection for this record, but Accelerate isn’t merely a comeback; it’s one of the band’s best and the only one they’ve made since Bill Berry left that’s worthy of the band.
R.E.M. is a singles band: a great singles band, but a singles band. Even full-length records of theirs that I have enjoyed — from Lifes Rich Pageant to Monster — have had long stretches of dull. Hey, the only R.E.M. album I like beginning to end is Chronic Town, which has a mere five cuts. But, for four minutes at a time, they can feel like perfection.
Accelerate is not perfect. The slow and midtempo numbers are a step above the snorers on the band’s last three records, but the rockers are outstanding: snarling, angry, bursting with life, the closest they’ve gotten to punk since their debut EP. Most people have pointed to Peter Buck’s rattlesnake riffs as the difference here, and they are sharp and surprising, but the greatest triumph here is Michael Stipe’s. He’s way outside his comfort zone here, both as a lyricist and a singer. On recent records, he’s been most comfortable overenunciating and overemoting. On Accelerate‘s fast cuts, he manages being both pissed-off and openhearted simultaneously. Maybe it takes someone who’s been at this for 30 years or so to sound so raw, so surprised by what he’s come up with?
“Living Well’s the Best Revenge”