Fans have been hoping for a return to an earlier R.E.M. sound almost from the moment there was an "earlier R.E.M. sound." But even as the band's jangle and mumble was imitated across the college-rock scene of the '80s, R.E.M. kept looking forward. Jumping to a major label with 1988's Green, the band stayed odd but still made a play for higher commercial stakes. They made it work longer than most bands, turning in some uneven releases, but only starting to sound too tired and too slick to matter on 2004's Around The Sun.
With Accelerate, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills sound like a band again, albeit now one not afraid to look back a little. Though hardly a throwback to vintage R.E.M., the album initially resembles a missing link between the delicate Automatic For The People and the hey-we're-a-rock-band-too Monster. But on closer examination, it starts to feel like an album with no real precedent in the R.E.M. catalog. Recorded quickly, Accelerate captures R.E.M. sounding looser and more spontaneous than, well, ever.
That approach doesn't always work. Some songs simply chug along, and listeners might consider bailing before Stipe launches into the album-closing half-rap of "I'm Gonna DJ." But the best tracks feature the reinvigorated R.E.M. fans have long hoped to hear. "Supernatural Superserious" uses a mile-wide classic-rock riff to drive an expression of misfit teen angst, and the drama of the album unfolds in the space between Stipe's delicate emoting and his band's newfound energy. Maybe it's the moment spurring them on. "The future's now and you don't even read the footnote now," Stipe spits at some unnamed authority figure on "Living Well's The Best Revenge." That might turn out to be just wishful thinking, but for this album, at least, R.E.M. sounds like a band out of time no more.