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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Alternative rock originator showcases crisper vocals

After launching 15 records in less than two decades, R.E.M. has gone three years without releasing a new album. But the band returns to the stage with its most recent, “Collapse Into Now.”

While not earth-shattering, this album gives listeners 12 new tracks consistent to the band’s sound but with a modern twist.

Shifting away from post-punk and new wave, R.E.M.’s early refusal in its career to incorporate cliché guitar riffs or synthesizers helped establish its timeless sound. Often politically charged, the group’s compositions have preserved its distinct sound, allowing R.E.M. to remain a forerunner in the rock world.

While the album features R.E.M.’s traditional soulful wailing, the vocals are cleaner and more developed, showcasing the band’s desire for more personal and expansive songs, instead of its traditionally fast, political music.

Opening track “Discoverer” is the album standout. Like “All The Best,” it doesn’t sound like classic R.E.M. music. It has an exciting and fuller but less eclectic sound and presents a more mature and sincere side of the band than previous albums.

“Oberlin,” “Oh My Heart” and “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I” include the expected twangy vocals and strong acoustic guitar — to the point where tired listeners might think they’re hearing a remake of an R.E.M. classic. And with lead singer Michael Stipe mumbling soulful lyrics and cramping them together, “Mine Smell Like Honey” sounds like a botched-up studio recording from the ’80s.

“Collapse Into Now” certainly won’t redefine rock or turn the musical world upside down, but it’s an enjoyable and well-crafted collection that R.E.M. aficionados will appreciate for its balance between tradition and innovation.

3 out of 4 stars