Monday, March 31, 2008


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I loved R.E.M.
Note the past tense.

It isn't a truly radical position to say that the Atlanta foursome hasn't been good for quite some while. Since 1998, to be exact. After a series of mediocre, lukewarm releases, R.E.M. has seen its fan base dwindle progressively and the media has been all too willing to point that out.

And now the band releases Accelerate, its self-proclaimed return-to-form. The nearly-30-minute record is loud, raw, and frenetic. This does not translate into good necessarily. Hugo Lindgren of New York magazine astutely points out why it ultimately doesn't work:

What’s strange about this direction is that for all their many gifts, R.E.M. were never very good at rocking out, at least not on record. They were too cerebral, too smart for it. They preferred to take rock songs apart.

Nevertheless, the media as a whole is championing the new record as "one of the best records R.E.M. have ever made" (Rolling Stone). Entertainment Weekly gives it an overly generous A - saying that Accelerate "speeds by so quickly, you half expect to hear a traffic cop knocking on their window, asking where the fire is" (could you believe a major magazine allowed a journalist to use that metaphor?).

The question is, why are they deluding themselves into thinking this album will be the commercial success we've been awaiting? And I think the reason is that we all want to believe in this band when especially considering how much we've invested into them in the past. For some of us, R.E.M. and its self-absorbed lead singer Michael Stipe were worth defending because they changed our lives. To abandon them now would mean that they've disappointed us. It would also mean that we're aware of the fact that aging makes us less talented and therefore out of touch. Stipe, Mills, and Buck definitely made some of the best music in our respective collections but those days may be over. And this shouldn't frighten us.

Leaving on a high note was their best strategy but now that they've persevered past that point, we shouldn't have to convince ourselves of the relevancy on their behalf. Rock stars get older and new rock stars come up to replace them. It's the evolution of pop culture.
And you know what? It's all right if this album is mediocre. We don't need them any more.