Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best of 2011: R.E.M.

Best of 2011

Song: Oh My Heart
Artist: R.E.M.
Album: Collapse Into Now

Admittedly, "Collapse Into Now" might not have been on my year-end list if the band hadn't called it quits after the relative quiet release of this, their fifteen album.  But that's not to say that this is some small half-hearted attempt to make sense of the end of a band that I once proudly claimed my favorite, a way to put a close to that part of my life, and a way to atone somehow for their lackluster output since the late 90's.  No. "Collapse Into Now" is on this list because it's one of my favorites of the year, though the emotional impact of the split did dive me deeper into this album, as well as their best moments from their 31 year career as heard on the seemingly rushed released, but pretty solid two-disc career spanning Best of.

But let's get this straight, "Collapse Into Now" is a great record, one that can proudly sit among the band's discography, and their best record since Bill Berry left the band in 1997.  Does it fit into the top five albums the bands ever released?  Well... maybe not.  But if you were a fan of R.E.M., emphasis on "were," you just simply need to get this record.  It is very worthy of being the last bit you hear from the band, and it does, in retrospect, serve as an album of everything R.E.M.'s been, with songs that seem to come from every stage of their career.

"Discoverer" launches the album and seems to take a cue from their last album, 2008's "Accelerate" and 90's fav "Monster," a sharp rocker made to shake stadiums awake.  "All the Best" continues this, but reminds me of the "Bad Day"-era of rocking non-album tracks the band did as they were treading water. (In a good way) Then we're given two of the best songs the band has ever written, the "Out of Time"-esque "ÜBerlin" and "Automatic for the People" like "Oh My Heart."

Later we have some honestly fun guitar rock in the shape of "Mine Smell Like Honey," "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter," and "That Someone is You."  It's here, along with the first two tracks on the album that I feel the band took the momentum of "Accelerate" (which I unfortunately tired of quickly) and wrote some fun and more memorable classic R.E.M. tracks.  Their not essential, but they are good.

Barring a few exceptions (hello "Around the Sun") the last couple R.E.M. albums, despite being lackluster would usually contain at least one killer single that could stand among their best, and one album track that I thought proved without a doubt that the band still had it.  "Collapse" has the quiet, meditative, "Walk it Back" that's taken on deeper meaning for me since the disbanding.  It's a companion piece of sorts to "We All Go Back to Where We Belong," the bands final single found on that aforementioned best of.  I'd actually drop "Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I," the album's weakest track and the only true throw-away, and I'd add "We All Go Back" to the end, after the epic actual album closer, the "Belong" meets "E-Bow the Letter" "Blue" with Patti Smith.  A song that brings back the "weird" R.E.M.

If one song can really bring an album together, "Collapse Into Now's" is "Oh My Heart," the bands ode to New Orleans that shoots and connects with the heart in the way that emotional powerhouses "Everybody Hurts," "Find the River," "Country Feedback," and "You Are the Everything" have done in the past.  This was the R.E.M. we all knew and loved, this was the band that effortlessly could write a killer hook and cut-to-the-vein emotion.  It might be my favorite R.E.M. song in a good decade and a half.

Who knows what's ahead for the members of the band, I can't imagine them stopping music creation all together.  Regardless, I'm happy "Collapse Into Now" has ended things.  I think in a couple years it will be regarded as a lost R.E.M. classic.  And one of 2011's best.


Oh My Heart
Walk it Back

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