I remember falling in love with R.E.M. It was 7th grade. Eric Buchakjian gave me a copy of an R.E.M. compilation (originally made by Kevin Mecum) containing selections from Murmur through Green. I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I received Lifes Rich Pageant (Michael Stipe hates punctuation) and Automatic for the People for Christmas, bought the rest of the back catalog over winter break, and the rest is history.
Before we get into Collapse Into Now, I want to talk about R.E.M.’s reputation over the years. I’d argue that R.E.M.’s public perception has followed the same trajectory as a beautiful woman. She was the cute girl in high school that everyone thought was attractive, but maybe she didn’t get as much attention as you would have expected. Everyone thought she was cute, but she was never in the running for Homecoming Queen (Chronic Town through Green era R.E.M.).
But college was a long time ago for R.E.M. She graduated. She is middle-aged and doesn’t turn heads like she used to. She hangs out at Village Tavern on weeknights, which is kind of sad. Every once in a while she’ll put on a terrible outfit and make a scene (Around the Sun). There are younger, prettier, more interesting and more provocative girls to check out now (Wilco, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Lion v. Fish, etc.).
A few years ago R.E.M. started doing P90X with Live at the Olympia and then gave us Accelerate, the first album since New Adventures that I enjoyed listening to from beginning to end. Two years later, I still find myself listening to Accelerate from beginning to end. R.E.M. quietly started turning heads again.
So let’s talk about Collapse Into Now. At first, it brought back memories of young, hot R.E.M. and made me a little sad. Over the past few weeks it has grown on me quite a bit. One of the things that I’ve always liked about R.E.M. is that their lyrics are abstract. It’s fun to wonder what Michael is talking about, but it’s more fun to make up the story ourselves. Michael usually doesn’t even specify the main character’s gender, so we get an open-ended opportunity to make the song about anything or nothing. There are a few songs on Collapse Into Now that have made me create my own story. It felt good to do that again.
“Discover” starts the album off with hope and sounds like something that could have been on Green. “Uberlin” is clearly an Automatic/Out of Time flashback. “Oh My Heart” is a continuation of “Houston” from Accelerate, but my first thought when Michael started singing at the beginning of the song was, “I haven’t heard him sound like that in a while.” “Mine Smell Like Honey” is a dumb sing-along for driving with the windows open. I mean that in the best possible way.
The day after Collapse Into Now came out, I emailed two old friends (the infamous Mecums) to talk about the album. I talked about how it reminded me of older R.E.M., which made me sad because I thought the new songs would never be as meaningful as the old ones. And they might not be. But I’m happy to say that I might be wrong. R.E.M. has changed her hair and started flirting with me again, and — for the first time in a while — I feel loved by R.E.M.
As I said, completely irrational. If I had to objectively rate the album, I’m not sure what I would give it. If Around the Sun is a 6 and Reckoning is a 10, I’d give Collapse Into Now an 8 ¼. For the record, Automatic is a 12. Maybe other people would rate Collapse Into Now a little lower, but love makes things more beautiful.