The crowds are gathering, the fanboys form a line. They all sing a chorus of “R.E.M. is back.” I join that crowd, but stand in the back and mutter under my breath that they may be back, but they aren't the same. I'll sing along to that fanboy song, but I'll sing it soft and to myself.
I can't help but wonder that if this album had been released after New Adventures in Hi-Fi instead of Up would the choir of jubilation be the same. Accelerate is a fine album, a solid one even, but it pales in comparison to the bands '80/early '90s heyday. There simply isn't enough to make this record a great one.
The good news is that Peter Buck finally found a guitar and remembered he's in a rock and roll band. The guitars are loud and fast and vibrant. After three records of computerized beeps and bland, boring guitar-lite, it feels great to hear some crunching sounds and to do something other than fall asleep to an R.E.M. album.
Ditto for Mike Mills. While the bass lines aren't nearly as prominent as Buck's guitar, it is definitely there and bouncing along. It seems like Mills has been stuck on piano for so long that I keep finding myself surprised that a driving bass is present at all. More than just a guitar though, Mills is adding his voice again, too. During several songs you can hear his lovely voice doing back up, and adding little “woos” and “la-la-las.” Nice.
I like this album. I'm as thrilled as the next guy that the boys from Athens have finally put out something that I'm not embarrassed to have in my collection. Accelerate rocks, and that's pretty good. Yet, this isn't your daddy's R.E.M. The jangle is gone. The depth is missing. The days spent pouring over Stipe's murmured vocals for hints of meaning have long since passed. It isn't R.E.M trying to be their old self. It isn't self-adulation. It isn't mimicker-y. Or mockery. Yet it isn't the R.E.M. we've come to know of late, and dismiss. It is a band finally waking up after a long nap. This kicks the dust off their last three records, and it reminds me of why I became a fan in the first place. Mostly it makes me hopeful that R.E.M still have something left to say.
That's something worth singing about.