Collapse into Now

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Article Reviews
Collapse into now
R.E.M. (Nonesuch Records, 2011)

From a clamorous crescendo built slowly of distorted guitars, high-toned bass, and low, rumbling drums, R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe exclaims, “Hey baby, this is not a challenge, it just means that I love you as much as I always said I did.” A few tension-filled bars later each musical strand coalesces into a powerful refrain that witnesses Stipe’s exuberant declaration, “Discoverer!”

Thus begins the masterful new album Collapse into Now by R.E.M., a band that in the early 1980s emerged onto the music scene with an enthralling blend of fast, pretty, and pounding punk rock songs that compelled fans to sing along to lyrics that were as captivating as they were indecipherable. By the late ’80s songs such as “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” became distinctive underground anthems while the 1990s saw stunning hits like “Everybody Hurts” achieve unheralded popular success.

Their latest album is another commanding mix of songs and styles. From the beautifully vulnerable “Walk it Back” to the almost comedic swagger of “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter,” the band employs a rich array of instruments amidst Mike Mills’ enchantingly distinctive back-up singing and Peter Buck’s energetic guitar.

Stipe, for his part, adds lyrics saturated in honesty, hope, and tender-hearted vulnerability, and he continues to surprise and delight with unabashedly life-affirming reflections. While neither Christian nor aspiring to be, the hope, humility, and joyous wonder of many of these lyrics nevertheless ring true to Christian ears, discerned in the album’s more profoundly reflective moments, such as when Stipe exclaims, “This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive. Living, blessed, I understand.”

With its irresistible energy and creativity, Collapse into Now promises to be one of this summer’s enduring albums.