R.E.M., "Collapse Into Now" (Warner Bros.)
The fifteenth studio album from R.E.M. finds the band at turns combative and mellow. The opening song, "Discoverer," could have been a bonus track on "Accelerate." It's all hard-driving guitars and that classic Stipe growl.
With ten of the dozen tracks under four minutes, "All The Best" follows quickly with a challenge to the younger generation: "I think I'll sing in a rhyme/I'll give it one more time/I'll show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine."
The album then hits its stride with a quartet of contemplative songs: "UBerlin," "Oh My Heart," "It Happened Today" and "Every Day is Yours to Win." This is the R.E.M. mainstream audiences love. Stipe's lyrics are sung poetry over the top of Peter Buck's simple chords.
The biggest misfire is the final track, "Blue." Patti Smith's guest vocal is mostly lost amid Stipe's monotone reading of a poem. Diehard R.E.M. fans may deconstruct it for meaning, but at more than five minutes it literally stops the momentum of an otherwise well-balanced album.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "It Happened Today" features Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder backing up Stipe during the chorus before they together belt out a wordless harmony in a song that would be fun to see performed live. Alas, R.E.M. says they don't plan to tour behind this album.