Comeback records are all well and good, but what comes after the comeback? With 2008’s Accelerate, R.E.M. recalled its rock ’n’ roll roots and made its most honestly aggressive album ever—even moreso than 1994’s noisy Monster, a record guitarist Peter Buck once described as “rock in quotation marks.” The post-comeback Collapse Into Now isn’t as breathless as its predecessor; it has a more spacious sound, akin to the Monster follow-up New Adventures In Hi-Fi. But the album is still clearly the work of a band that’s become belatedly comfortable with what it does best. Heck, Buck even breaks out his mandolin.
Working again with producer Jacknife Lee—one of the architects of Snow Patrol’s biggest hits—R.E.M. opens Collapse Into Now with the jangly, echoing “Discoverer,” which features Michael Stipe in full “hey baby” mode, painting himself as a centered, self-aware swinger. From there, the album is split between jet-fueled guitar-pop anthems like “All The Best” and “That Someone Is You” and catchy acoustic numbers like “Überlin” and “Walk It Back.” Generally speaking, Collapse’s songs are more fully formed than Accelerate’s, trading some of the latter’s immediacy for durability.
A few of the new songs find R.E.M. treading old ground, right down to the Out Of Time-like goofiness of the terribly titled “Mine Smell Like Honey” and the Patti Smith guest vocal on the “E-Bow The Letter”-like “Blue.” But just as it was a kick to hear an energetic, engaged R.E.M. again on Accelerate, so it’s reassuring to hear Stipe get back to thoughtfully contemplating hero-worship and identity, as on the plaintive ballad “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I.” Collapse Into Now isn’t the from-left-field treat that Accelerate was; it’s better. It’s another very good album from a band that’s getting back into the habit of making them.