Accelerate is patchy at best, with only the blaring finale, ‘I’m Gonna DJ’, really catching the attention.
Talking to this writer early last year in his capacity as guitarist with cult English songwriter Robyn Hitchcock’s touring line-up, Peter Buck acknowledged the lack of uptempo rock tracks on the past few REM albums, and stated his intention to rectify the situation on the next record by the Athens group.
Buck has certainly succeeded in making Accelerate a much heavier affair than either Reveal or Around The Sun – it’s the loudest and most abrasive REM offering since 1994’s Monster, in fact – but it ultimately proves to be another underwhelming album from a band who seem to have lost their creative spark in recent years.
Whatever its root cause, the diagnosis of REM’s current malady is straightforward: like Oasis and, latterly, The Strokes, their gift for melody has abandoned them. Though it has plenty of energy and attitude, Accelerate conspicuously lacks a track the calibre of ‘Stand’, ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ or ‘What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?’, all of which dazzled with their lyrical inventiveness, musical dynamism and lethally addictive hooks.
Michael Stipe has said that Accelerate “comments on the future I wanted, and I’m going to say, ‘I want my future now!’” That’s great, but it doesn’t start with an earthquake. The album actually commences with ‘Living Well’s The Best Revenge’, a somewhat lukewarm, punk-influenced rocker that sets the tone for the rest of Accelerate in that it’s fast, short (just over three minutes), has Jacknife Lee’s trademark production sheen and a lyric that deals with the Bush administration’s catastrophic policy errors and the media’s frequently distorted reportage of same.
The lyrics are actually one of the biggest disappointments of Accelerate, as they lack the kind of trademark flourishes that Michael Stipe has traditionally specialised in. One thinks of ‘Man On The Moon’, with its celebrated references to Andy Kaufman, or the aforementioned ‘Kenneth’, based on the bizarre incident in which two men assaulted CBS news anchor Dan Rather in Central Park, with one of the assailants repeatedly asking, ‘Kenneth, What’s The Frequency?’
These days, Stipe utilises a more thematically narrow brand of agitprop, and while the sentiments are unquestionably very admirable, some of the humour, unusual digressions and surrealist imagery of old wouldn’t have gone amiss.
After ‘Living Well’, Accelerate continues with a series of thumping rockers that will be familiar to those who attended the band’s series of live rehearsals in Dublin last summer, including ‘Mansized Wreath’ and ‘Supernatural Superserious’. The only time the record really pauses for breath is on the acoustic numbers ‘Houston’ and ‘Until The Day Is Done’ which, ironically, are two of the best tracks.
The former is a moody folk composition that ends, incongruously enough, with a short blast of feedback a la Sonic Youth, whilst the latter is a slice of rootsy Americana in the classic REM mould. Next up is the best song of all, ‘Mr. Richards’, in which Stipe plays the angry-but-defiant spokesman of the anti-GOP consortium (“You’re mistaken if you think we’ll just fall down”), against the backdrop of some superb, near shoegazer-style guitar work from Buck.
Unfortunately, thereafter Accelerate is patchy at best, with only the blaring finale, ‘I’m Gonna DJ’, really catching the attention. REM’s body of work ensures that they are unlikely to ever be anything other than a formidable live act, but on the evidence of Around The Sun and now Accelerate, they are in danger of becoming a sort of alternative rock Rolling Stones; a huge touring draw whose appeal is heavily reliant on their back catalogue.
Key track: ‘Mr. Richards’
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