R.E.M.’s 2008 album Accelerate received the best reviews of any record they released after drummer Bill Berry’s departure. Personally, I’d rank it below Up but I agree it’s a high point of the late phase of their career.
That said, today’s Random SOTD, ‘Sing For the Submarine,’ is not among my favorites. It has its moments it’s way too melodically unsophisticated for my taste.
As years have passed, I’ve increasingly looked at R.E.M. as a band that broke up in 1997, with Bill Berry’s departure. The band put out ten albums before that point and five after, but those five never quite felt like “real” R.E.M. albums.
I found something to love in each of them when they were released (even Around the Sun, by far their weakest record) but looking back on R.E.M.’s career in total, it definitely splits into two eras.
In 2008, R.E.M. administered smelling salts to their sagging career in the form of Accelerate, 35 minutes of the rawest, most visceral music they’d recorded since Lifes Rich Pageant and Document.
The band was in need of a comeback (according to Peter Buck, Michael Stipe himself said “If we make another bad record, it’s over” following the collapse of Around the Sun) and they got it with Accelerate.
The album earned them their best reviews in years and, even more important, they sounded like a band again… Stipe tears into his vocals with a passion he hadn’t tapped consistently in more than a decade and Buck lets loose on the guitars like a real headbanger.
It’s a difficult challenge for a great, established band (or solo artist) to put out new material. When you have a dozen albums behind you, filled with classic songs, how can you avoid the let-down of comparisons to your storied history?
Accelerate is R.E.M.’s 15th studio album and viewed in that light it is something of a disappointment. There is no ‘Half a World Away’ here. No ‘Nightswimming.’ No ‘Driver 8,’ ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ or ‘Fall On Me.’ No ‘So. Central Rain’ or ‘Rockville.’ How could there be, really? Those songs, and many others, are among the all-time greats, written and recorded over a decade in one of those creative bursts that has to have a beginning and an end.