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Growing up in the ‘90’s REM was not only my favorite band but the best band on the planet, at least in the early half. But since Bill Berry left the group in 97 for health reasons, I’ve endured a series of strange, boring, and at times awful records. To their credit REM created a unique and new sound, a sort of electronic ambient soft rock, but it really was frustrating, especially following an album full of anxieties like New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Around the Sun had REM with a new sense of artistic purpose, but it was still an incomplete mess. So, I wasn’t expecting much with Accelerate, except that I knew I’d buy it and probably be frustrated with it.
The first thing anyone will notice is the presence of drums. And for the first time in years REM sounds like an actual rock band. The synthesizers are mostly gone, and this is the most we’ve heard from Mike Mills on an album since Out of Time. This is above all a Peter Buck album, showing us why he’s one of the most technically gifted and versatile guitarists.
. I saw REM on their last tour and it was interesting they played most of Life’s Rich Pageant, perhaps their most consistent rock album, and this album does hearken back to that period. Superficially Accelerate is Green without any of the hits. An overtly politically driven rock album with amazing hooks, and it rocks harder than almost anything they’ve done, going back nearly 30 years ago to their roots. And once the album starts it really doesn’t stop.
For a time it felt like REM had turned into one of those bands which are oblivious to anything else happening in the musical universe. But here, REM shows some signs of contemporaries, or at least the roots of their contemporaries. I mean when you’ve invented the music that everyone else has built upon what’s there to do? It also reaches to the past. The influence of Wire can be seen on this album if anything in the fact that most of the songs don’t reach 3 minutes, there are obvious nods to REM’s ‘90’s contemporaries like Nirvana, Blur, and Pearl Jam, but also REM’s own influences like The Velvet Underground and Big Star.
So, is this a great album or the result of disappointments and lowered expectations? At first I thought the altter, but really this is a great rock album regardless. The title of the first song is “Living Well is the best revenge,” a George Herbert quote which could easily describe what REM has done here. Is REM back? I’m not sure, but they’ve lived long, and well. All I know is that REM sounds like the playful, energetic, hyper-intelligent, college rock band I fell in love with. That this is their best work in over a decade, and that this was not some April fool’s joke, but the real thing. .