When drummer Bill Berry departed following 1996’s classic ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi’, REM limped on as a “three-legged dog” (their words), releasing a trio of albums that had the effect of tarnishing their once impeccable legacy. Their last LP, 2004’s disappointing ‘Around The Sun’, led many to question why they were even bothering any more. So what have REM done now? As Michael Stipe sings on the album’s giddy title track, “I’ve got to fall in another direction/Accelerate”. The band have made a raw, energetic rock’n’roll record with Bloc Party producer Jacknife Lee. It’s a bold and adventurous step and, thankfully, their bravery has paid off.
This collection of songs is a welcome throwback to the politically engaged and musically brash REM of the ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’/‘Document’ era of ’86/’87. This is apparent on searing opener ‘Living Well Is The Best Revenge’, with Peter Buck’s guitar ringing through clear as day after an unexplained spell on the sidelines and recalling 1987 ‘list’ classic ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’. It’s utterly exhilarating, and sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The righteous stomp of ‘Man-Sized Wreath’ rails against the Bush administration’s attitude towards the civil rights movement. Later, during folky ‘Houston’, Stipe attacks the US government’s initial lack of response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. They might be having fun, but they haven’t forgotten what’s important. As a result of all this, ‘Accelerate’ is by some considerable distance REM’s best and most cohesive album since Berry left, and crucially echoes a time when they made their best music, if not necessarily their biggest-selling.
REM have gone back in order to forge themselves a brighter future, and for that they should be applauded. Maybe they’ll even become cool to like again.