Vying for the title of most accurately titled album of the year, R.E.M.’s latest is a joy ride in a muscle car with care and caution thrown to wind. It’s about rhythmic speed and a lack of polish; the guitars blare, Michael Stipe’s voice is raw and untamed; there is nary a sign of post-production polish.
It has been a decade since guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills have let loose like this and in actuality, none of their previous 13 studio albums possess “Accelerate’s” back to back to back intensity in the instrumentation or performance.
“Accelerate,” which clocks in at Ramones-like 35 minutes, belongs on a thematic shelf with the classics “Automatic for the People” and “Lifes Rich Pageant.” Like those albums, “Accelerate” is a bracing effort, a joy to be around and enjoyed casually; all three have the air of a band getting together and letting it rip with little thought as to how – or even if – they might fine tune things later. It’s lightyears away from the last several albums, fussy affairs with occasional attractive moments and little staying power.
Disc opens on a steady roar with “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” “Man-Sized Wreath” and “Supernatural Superserious,” the first single and the lone electric-guitar-based tune that effortlessly reveals its tunefulness. Only a few songs let up from the charge and they contain the elements one expects from R.E.M. when they’re running at full speed: “Houston,” in which the protagonist is relocated survivor of Hurricane Katrina, and the ballad “Until the Day Is Done,” with delightfully sophisticated acoustic guitar lines, are throwback to the mid-’80s sound. The dreamy “Hollow Man,” which shifts tempos and key instrumentation – piano in slow parts, guitar in the mid-tempo – should be the single that restores faith in the band. And with the confession of the opening line “I’ve been lost inside my head” and the admonition “believe in me/believe in nothing,” Stipe’s cryptic nature feels intact. R.E.M. has moved down the block, but they’re home again.