R.E.M. is a band with a rich history and that makes it very easy to put great pressure on their newest music. With the universally praised Murmur and popular releases like Out of Time and Automatic for the People in their catalogue, R.E.M. has a great deal to live up to on every release. Unfortunately, recent years have resulted in a very inconsistent and generally poor stream of albums from the band. Mildly erratic release schedules and mediocre output eventually resulted in a very low point for the band, as Around the Sun was a critical and commercial flop. Quite simply, the band seemed adrift following the retirement of drummer Bill Berry and a fixation with electronic music. Thankfully, R.E.M. has found their way again and released their best album in over ten years.
Accelerate does not meditate in boring fashion. Instead, we find a band out on a mission to reclaim their former glory and (in places) simply rock out. The whole affair opens with the stunning “Living Well is the Best Revenge.” This song is simply amazing, with great riffs, loud vocals, and a defiant nature that was absent from the past decade of R.E.M. Politically, we get to see the liberal band jumping back into their stride, commenting on how history will vindicate them and not certain others over the past eight years. Really, the whole song sounds like a complete rebirth – a very fitting start to this refreshing album.
And the band doesn’t stop there. Each and every song that follows drives through, offering a sort of urgency and presence that was missing from Around the Sun. Michael Stipe sounds alive again, offering his classic vocal delivery in a very animated way. Perhaps even more impressive is the return of Mike Mills’ vocal contributions. He sounds young again, offering the soaring counterpart to the rhetoric that Stipe contributes. First single “Supernatural Superserious” helps display this full-band improvement as the tight lyrical skills and purposefully vague vocal delivery are combined with brilliantly tough guitars. All the while, Mills is adding his signature take on the song, making this seem like one of the most complete R.E.M. compositions in many years.
The band sounds highly rejuvenated, and the result is quite enjoyable for the listener. Even the slight critical pans offered toward the latter half of the album mean very little here; they only seem weak in comparison to the rest of Accelerate. Thankfully, these songs aren’t actually poor pieces, and “Sing for the Submarine” and “I’m Gonna DJ” are some excellent tracks. The whole album is brilliant and truly one of the best albums of the year.