Since he was old enough to pull himself up and stand holding onto the shelves, my son would reach into the CD shelves that line our hall and pull out an album (or a handful) while I put on my shoes and zipped his coat of a morning. Initially because that’s what toddlers do but subsequently because he’d learn that when he thrust one into my hands odds were that I’d take it out with us and we’d listen to it during the drive – him to the child-minder and me onwards to the office – and the idea of choosing the music for the day appealed to him greatly.
Aside from the fact that he’s already forming favourites and calling out requests (“where’s that Dinosaur Jr?” “Foo Fighters please”) from the back seat before he’s three, it’s meant that as his physical development allowed him to do more than repeatedly grab clusters from the M/N area – he’s been selecting albums that I wouldn’t otherwise do so for myself and, in many instances, hadn’t listened to for years and giving me the impetus to spin things I hadn’t for some time.
Collapse Into Now
In 1997, a couple of years after a suffering a brain aneurysm on stage in Switzerland, and as the band were due to commence sessions for a new album, drummer Bill Berry told his band mates that he was leaving REM. In the seventeen years he’d sat on his drum stool behind Messrs Stip, Buck and Mills the four-piece from Athens, Georgia had gone from underground, college-scene heroes, broken through with Document and achieved major-label success and sales with Out of Time, Automatic For The People and assured permanent rotation wherever music videos are played with clips for ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘Losing My Religion’ and, to their own chagrin, ‘Shiny Happy People’.
After announcing his intentions Berry added a caveat; he would only vacate his stool if the others agreed to carry on. As such, the publicity for the band’s next album Up often contained Stipe’s “I guess a three-legged dog is still a dog. It just has to learn to run differently” quote.
I’d gotten quite into REM at this point in time. While I’d played ‘Drive’ on the jukebox at a holiday camp one summer to the point that the guy working there ended up pulling the plug (to be fair he at least gave me my 50p back even if his ‘I think that song breaks it’ lie was weakly delivered0 – it was New Adventures In Hi-Fi that I held and still hold as a great album (‘Departure’, ‘Bittersweet Me’, ‘How The West Was Won and Where It Got Us’, ‘Electrolite’??!) As such Up was purchased by me on day of release. Sadly Berry’s departure also marked the point I pretty much started losing interest. Up has some good songs (3.5 at last count), Reveal was too stodgy and heavy-handed – and marked the last REM album I’d buy for some time – and Around The Sun (or what I’ve heard of it) had all the punch and staying power of a kitten’s fart. Save for the (Berry-co-written) single ‘Bad Day’ from the Warner Bros comp it seemed like the now-three-piece from Athens, Georgia weren’t going to be finding rotation on my stereo again.
But then…. perhaps tired of the inertia and lukewarm reception surrounding their output – Around the Sun had shifted under 240,000 copies in the US – and enthused by working with (finally) a new producer, REM engaged again and, working under tighter pressure and deadlines, released Accelerate; an aggressively upbeat and purposeful album that was, as one critic said, the “sound of a band having enjoyed a good word with themselves”.
For all it’s praise – and I’ve still not added it to my own shelves – Accelerate was a very single-focus album and lacked the subtleties that enthused their earlier and better tracks. I don’t think there was a single mandolin lick to be found. Still, it made me listen again so that, in 2011, when word of a new album and lyric videos for ‘Überlin’ and ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ dropped, Collapse Into Now was one I bought on day of release.
Until this last week I hadn’t listened to it for a couple of years but each and every time I hear this album I find more to enjoy – that naggingly catchy riff that kicks off proceedings with ‘Discoverer’, the vocal power of ‘Oh My Heart’, the breaking out of that joyous chorus of ‘Mine Smell Like Honey’ or Eddie Vedder’s contribution to ‘It Happened Today’, the blast that is ‘All The Best’ (in which Stipe portends their plans with “it’s just like me to overstay my welcome”) or the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joy of ‘That Someone Is You’:
Collapse Into Now may not be perfect but then no REM album is 100% (‘Star Me Kitten’, anyone? No, didn’t think so). It is their most consistent and successfully multi-faceted album for a long time and one in which the sheer weight of positives and the quality of the production outnumber its weaker points. Rather than simply play it fast as they’d done with Accelerate, the songs on this album are given space to breath, there are textures that harken back to their earlier work without sounding like re-treads and there’s an overwhelming sense that, once again, they’re enjoying what they do.
Once you’ve reclaimed your reputation – what do you do, though? With their deal with Warner Bros at an end, would they sign to an independent or will they make another massive-money deal? Will they continue this upward trend in quality with another album? With a seemingly-rekindled joy of playing live will they tour?
But they didn’t go for any of that. For it turns out that when they got together to record Collapse Into Now they did so with the idea of “going out on a high note.” And, in September 2011 (just five months after the album’s release) REM announced their decision to call it a day. With Collapse Into Now, to my ears at least and this is my blog after all, they did just that. After all, I doubt people would be clamouring for more if the last think they’d released had been ‘Leaving New York’.