Wednesday, March 9, 2011

REM is Back with "Collapse into Now"

The very beautiful REM

REM's newest album, Collapse into Now, is finally out after months of anticipation sparked by reveals along the way.  First the song titles, then some individual tracks, and then last week's listening party.  I've been nervous as the memory of listening to the disappointing (to say the least) Around the Sun still hurts just a little.  Would this album live up to the reputation of a band I consider second only to the Beatles?

Well, upon more listens, I'd say the answer is yes.  I was initially concerned as I listened to each released track, but having a chance to hear the album in its entirety shows why iTunes is such a dangerous thing.  In the old days (wow, I'm officially old enough to say that without irony) you listened to an album as the artist and producers intended, from start to finish.  There was no Chinese food menu approach, I'll take this song here and that one over there. 

When you listen to the entire album, you feel and hear a sense of purpose again to their music.  There's emphasis of finding a memorable hook and yet Stipe still allows himself to use his words to paint sometimes abstract, sometimes poetic, and occasionally clear pictures.  I love how he focuses on the sound and cadence of the words, not just their meaning, One fan has put up the lyrics to all the songs here on his website, check it out. 

Right now my favorite song is Uberlin.  There was an initial video released which I posted earlier, but a new video has been released which is part of a project that Michael Stipe is working on bringing in a variety of filmmakers to direct their own vision of the songs. Read here for more info on other upcoming collaborations.

Another new short film has been released for the song Mine Smells Like Honey.  As always, love Mike Mills vocal support, he is a perfect counterpoint to Stipe.  I'm not quite sure what to make of the video other than I don't like my Stipey being tossed around like a ragdoll.  But he seems fine with it, no worse for wear by the end, and there is a stunning shot of his intense, sparkling blue eyes.  So that works for me. 

Last is a live video of a really gripping, powerful song, Oh My Heart.  There is no one whose voice can cut through like Stipe's.  There is so much meaning in the way he chooses to enunciate certain words (something he was not known for at the beginning of his career) and then when he voice goes up during the second part of the "Oh My Heart" chorus, it just kills me.  And we have Peter Buck on mandolin again.  Listen to how he so effortlessly has that instrument sing.  It just doesn't get any better than this.

I listen to a lot of music, but there is no other artist -- not even the Beatles -- that can do to me and for me what REM does. Listening to REM revitalizes me, builds me up, sustains me. It's like a missing piece coming back to fill the hole. Recently, I've had to rely on older songs to satisfy that need, that hunger. It's particularly sweet to have a new set of songs that can do that.

Okay, one more picture of Stipe... his most beautiful.

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