The Speed of Rock

Not that they really have much to prove at this point, but R.E.M. hasn't had much in the way of commercial success since 1994's grunge-inspired Monster. But they are one of those stalwart bands that continues to press forward, releasing a new album every few years, even if it goes by largely unbeknownst to the mainstream.

I'll admit, I'm one of those fans that hasn't really paid much attention to their newer material, but recently, an unsolicited copy of Spin Magazine featuring a cover story on R.E.M. found its way to our mailbox. Once I got past how heavily airbrushed Peter Buck is in the cover photo, I became convinced to seek out their latest album, Accelerate.

Accelerate is what U2 was billing How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb to be prior to its release, namely, an uncompromising rock 'n' roll record. Only R.E.M. didn't get bored after four songs and fill up the rest of the album with ballads. Don't get me wrong, I do really like HTDAAB, but it just isn't the in-your-face slab of rock that Bono was promising. But I digress, this review is supposed to be about R.E.M.

Clocking in at a brief 34 minutes, Accelerate has the immediacy of an early Van Halen record. There is no room for any filler because by the time you blink, the album is over. Things get off to an unapologetic start with "Living Well is the Best Revenge," and the band quickly reel off two more three-minutes-or-less rockers, "Man-Sized Wreath" and "Supernatural Superserious," before you can take a breath.

Things only "deccelerate" a bit in the middle for "Houston" and "Until the Day is Done," a pair of mid-tempo folk tunes that would not sound out of place on Automatic For The People. After those enjoyable diversions, the pedal is once again put firmly to the metal, and Accelerate screeches across the finish line with the howling "I'm Gonna DJ." Sorry for having to resort to a terrible racing metaphor/cliché there.

Speaking of terrible clichés, why do music critics always feel compelled to declare a new album from a veteran band to be "their best since (insert career-defining album here)?" For example, I wonder if Depeche Mode ever gets tired of always having their latest album compared to Violator, or going back to U2, will their new material ever be able to escape the shadow of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby? So while I won't be declaring Accelerate to be R.E.M.'s best album since Out of Time and Automatic For The People, from the sounds of it, Michael Stipe & Co. are too busy rocking out to really care.

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