With just the slightest bit of finesse
I might have made a little less mess
But it was what it was
Let's all get on with it now
It is with those words from “Discoverer”, the opening track of their latest Bill Berry-less effort, Collapse Into Now, that R.E.M. practically writes this review for me. I grew up a super-fan of this band. My license plate for at least 10 years read “BBMSTYP”. I have every single, every B-side, and practically every other piece of recorded material that the band has ever released. In saying this, please understand that I don’t presume that the band owes myself or anyone anything. I’m just saying this to point out that I have a history with R.E.M. A LOT of people have a history with R.E.M.
Now I think it’s time for that history to end.
I’m going to keep referring to Berry in this review not because I think his return could fix the giant musical mess that the bands catalog has become but to delineate and differentiate between the “good” R.E.M. and whatever the f@#@ this crap is we’ve been being fed for the past decade. Look, everyone gave the band a pass when they recorded Up and if I’m honest with myself, I really enjoy parts of that record. It was definitely a departure for the band but it treads familiar enough ground and while shaky at times, was at least lyrically strong enough to hold my interest. And, I didn’t want the band to be over. So there was that. In my mind R.E.M. hadn’t ever produced a bad album up till this point (say what you will about New Adventures In Hi-Fi, but 15 years later album still sounds pretty relevant, even if it is arguably the weakest album in their catalog to feature Berry) and all that goodwill was simply transferred onto Up and it got a pass. Had I been more logical about it I probably would have abandoned the band right then and there, because all of the seeds that would further ruin the band’s music for me in the future were planted right there. I just never expected them to try and follow through on it. From then on out, each album has defied imagination and actually been worse than the last, until by the time they got to Around The Sun they were producing albums so unlistenable that they could only be described with the phrase “s@# sandwich”.
What made R.E.M. really work back in the day was not only the sense of mystery that the music evoked but a real sense of commitment to the songs. Even when mumbled, the words to songs like “Driver 8”, “Fall on Me”, anything off of Out of Time, and yes, even “Stand” and “Shiny Happy People” had a real sense of purpose in their delivery and no matter how ridiculous they got, i.e. “Shiny” the band was able to craft the song in a way that you enjoyed it despite the fact that your brain was telling you to do the exact opposite. R.E.M. used to be able to write songs. Really f@#ing good songs, and somewhere along the way, they have not only lost that ability, but it would seem that they don’t even care to try anymore…and unfairly or not I’m putting the blame squarely on Michael Stipe’s shoulders. The man has nothing left to say…or at least nothing interesting. Don’t believe me? How about a sampling of some of the “lyrics” from Collapse Into Now. Let’s start out with the second worst offender on the album, “Oh My Heart”.
I came home to a city half-erased
I came home to face
What we faced
Stipe is quite literally saying NOTHING here. I have no idea what you faced. None. I gather that the song is about Katrina, but that’s only because I know suddenly and confusingly R.E.M. has to have at least one song about Katrina on their albums. Regardless of his sincerity, in singing songs like “Oh My Heart” and Accelerate’s “Houston” without imbuing them with any real soul or actual content beyond the basic platitudes that everyone could write were they exploring their feelings on the event comes off like a rock star trying to exploit a tragedy that we all experienced in one way or another to sell some records. I suppose it there could be some political statement in these songs, after all R.E.M. has historically been a fairly political band, but lyrically the subject matter is handled so clumsily that any intended meaning is lost to the flash of a band trying to somehow stay relevant. Here’s a hint R.E.M. MAKE GOOD MUSIC!!
Need more proof? How about this, the worst R.E.M. chorus in history from “It Happened Today”.
It happened today. Hooray! Hooray!
It happened. Hip, hip, hooray!
Compare that to words from the song that it musically steals from, “Near Wild Heaven”
Whenever we hold each other
We hold each other
There's a feeling that's gone
Something has gone wrong
And I don't know how much longer I can take it
House made of heart break it
Take my head in your hands and shake it
In this near wild heaven
Not near enough
Near wild Heaven
Near wild Heaven
Need more? Let’s go with “Every Day Is Yours To Win”
I can not tell a lie
It's not all cherry pie
But it's all there waiting for you
WHAT IS THIS CRAP??!!! This coming from the same man who wrote the words to truly great songs like “You Are The Everything”, “Country Feedback” and really, too many others to name??? Just pick any song from Murmur through New Adventures In Hi-Fi and you are bound to find something good. Even the songs that you used to hate, like “Everybody Hurts” (though not really…nobody can hate that song for real) to the pop songs off of Green (if you were an “old school fan” who thought they sold out with that album) you’re going to find something that is so much better than the crap that Stipe and Co. keep pumping out in a post-Berry R.E.M. that it will make you angry…as it obviously does me.
And unfortunately that’s only half of the problem with Collapse Into Now.
Stipe’s output now is as saddening as the band’s cannibalization of its own greatest hits is cynical. Adding layer after layer of crap on to crap doesn’t really add up to anything but crap, or in other words, to quote one of my favorite sayings of all time, “You can’t polish a turd”.
And with that I’m done. There’s no need to explore this album…or any album from this band ever again. They’re done. My only is that they pull their collective head’s out of their asses before we find ourselves left with more truly awful R.E.M. albums than we have good ones because it would be a shame if years from now the only thing that this once truly great band brings to mind is “Sh@# sandwich”
And to Michael Stipe I only have a few words from my work in progress titled "REMIUSEDTOLOVEUBUTNOWYOUMAKEMECRY"
You used to be my hero
Now you’re just a zero
See Michael? That doesn’t feel very good now does it? Not very good at all.