R.E.M.'s 14th album Accelerate (2008) was a hard-charging return to mid-'90s form, and right from the get-go too, with its loud electric guitar-propelled first few cuts recalling the Monster record. It also had a small share of gentle tunes as well.
The theme continues for album number 15, Collapse Into Now (2011). But, this one has some new wrinkles. Like its last release, Jacknife Lee worked with Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills on production, and once again, R.E.M. brought the loud rock to the masses, along with some folkier cuts to balance out the mood of the full-length. But spacey and experimental arrangements, and the old, reliable mandolin can be found on the new album too, which help differentiate it from Accelerate.
Stipe's hero, Patti Smith, who shared vocals duty with him on the 1996 single "E-Bow The Letter," returns to do guest backing vocals on lead-off track "Discoverer" and on album closer "Blue." The sludgy, vocally (by Stipe) rambling latter track actually ends with a reprise of "Discoverer" to close out Collapse Into Now. Perhaps the band did that so everyone can leave the listening experience feeling good about themselves, like a good movie ending with a feel-good scene, instead of an abrupt or strange one (which, in this analogy, "Blue" would have been for this album if not for the reprise of the top-notch first track).
In between the first and last tracks are plenty of other notable recordings. "Mine Smell Like Honey" is a pure, classic verse-chorus-verse rocker, backed always by bassist Mike Mills' high-end background vocals. The echoed vocals that support the clean acoustic-driven "Uberlin" recall "Drive," while the piano-led and personal "Walk It Back" has the type of simple, memorable chorus that just sticks with you long after the song is over.
The twinkling musical elements and delicate guitars of the forward-thinking and spacey "Every Day Is Yours To WIn" is another winner. It's not quite as classic as "Man On The Moon" but sounds like vintage R.E.M. nonetheless.
"Oh My Heart" is full band folk music (much like Accelerate's "Houston" and "Until The Day Is Done") but with a horn section and an accordion, the latter courtesy of longtime R.E.M. collaborator Scott McCaughey (of The Minus Five, The Baseball Project, etc.). He also plays guitars, the keys, and sings background vocals on the album. The track itself is bitter and sweet, with Stipe's dark, Hurricane Katrina-referencing lyrics like "The storm didn't kill me/the government changed" representing the former, and Buck's signature mandolin and the aforementioned other elements providing the latter.