R.E.M. – Accelerate
Warner Bros (2008)
By Aaron Burkhalter
Let me paint you a picture.
I’m about 15, walking down the artificially lit hallways of Nathan Hale High School in Seattle. No doubt I’m cradling some varied ratio of recently fired bowls from my pottery class and wet black-and-white photos wrapped in paper towels from my photography class.
In addition to the layers of clay and the stench of chemicals, I’m wearing low-top red Converse All-Stars, stone-washed carpenter pants and, the cherry on top, an R.E.M. t-shirt.
It might have been the brown one with a little red devil, or the black one with the faux-1950s nuclear family cartoon from their Automatic For The People tour, but most likely it was an orange t-shirt featuring the beheaded body of the bear from Monster, which I continued to wear even as holes developed between the silkscreen details.
I wore those shirts to the point where I was known to some as “That guy who really likes R.E.M.”
I proudly declared them “my favorite band.” Once, in an embarrassing moment that could only happen in high school, I delivered an oral report on the band in Spanish.
After high school we parted ways.
One might say tastes changed, or maybe I became too much of an Indie snob to appreciate Warner Brothers’ top paid musicians. Maybe my introduction to local bands, sounds and styles simply overwhelmed the time I once dedicated solely to listening to Athen’s finest.
Or who knows, maybe Reveal and Around The Sun sucked rocks, squashing my hope that the former was a mere lackluster diversion from an otherwise immaculate career.
Contrasting the lush production and jangle-pop of R.E.M.’s last to releases, “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” opens Accelerate with saw-edged guitars that define the entire album. The guitars, lyrics and song structure form a darker and rougher version of R.E.M. circa the late 1980s without poorly mimicking the darkness of the highly underrated New Adventures in Hi Fi.
It harkens back to 1987’s Document and 1988’s Green, but with a punkier sound, drawing once again from one of their earliest influences, Mission of Burma.
Now this album has me doing strange things. I want to read the lyrics, memorize the songs and shout them loudly as I blast it in my car heading down the freeway. I want to be that kid wearing too-large clothes and covered in clay passionately orating — in Spanish — about the bands humble beginnings playing at a church in Athens to the arena-filling behemoth they have become. I want to start saying their name followed by the footnote “my favorite band.”
And all the while, I am aware that perhaps this album isn’t THAT good, but only better than the last few. Perhaps my enthusiasm isn’t as much for the music itself, but what the music meant to me from about 1990 to 1999.
But as quickly as those logical thoughts and criticisms come to mind, tracks like “Supernatural, Superserious,” “Mister Richards” and “Horse To Water” pound them out again, with a fun, saw-edged sound coupled with politically disenchanted lyrics hinting at the current administration and Hurricane Katrina.
Listening to “Mister Richards” on repeat, I turn from the 28-year-old reporter and husband I am today into the maudlin 15-year-old student, cradling photos and pottery, in love with a band — his favorite band. – (8.5/10)