Friday Recommends, guest bloggers, music

Special Andrew Cashmere Edition of Friday Recommends: R.E.M., Collapse Into Now

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We are still beautiful women.
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Today’s Friday Recommends is guest written by Andrew Cashmere, whose R.E.M. bona fides are indisputable. Mr. Cashmere has previously Friday Recommended here. We intended to lead into this Friday Recommendation with an edition of Voreplay; it will now follow Mr. Cashmere’s post and appear in this space on Saturday.
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Thank you, Mr. Cashmere.
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I love Jesus.
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I love my wife and two daughters.
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I love Winnie the Basset Hound.
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I love my parents and siblings and extended family.
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I love my friends.
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Finally, I love R.E.M.
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Okay, maybe I don’t love R.E.M. In a perfect world, love should be reciprocal. R.E.M. doesn’t know me personally so they aren’t capable of returning my love. They may not know who I am, but my affection and attachment to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe is strong. It’s so strong that I can’t delete “Berry.” At the very least, I like them like them. Love makes us say and do irrational things.
Make no mistake: this album review will be completely irrational. 

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 Eric Buchakjian gave me a copy of an R.E.M. compilation (originally made by Kevin Mecum) containing selections from Murmur through Green.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.).

Then R.E.M. went to college and holy crap did she blossom into a smoking hot woman (Out of Time through New Adventures in Hi-Fi). Automatic for the People might be the musical equivalent of a girl who plays soccer, likes beer, and has a great ass. Does it get any better? It was during this period that R.E.M. turned the most heads. 

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.).

The new girl is always more interesting, but take another look at R.E.M. Up through Collapse Into Now era R.E.M. makes some questionable fashion choices and may have put on some weight since college, but she still looks pretty good. I have four R.E.M. playlists in my iTunes. I listen to the “Warner Brothers w/o Bill” playlist the least, but when I do I’m always surprised by how many good songs came off of the relatively weaker albums. Despite the good songs here and there, it’s been a while since R.E.M. pulled together a complete, quality album. 

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.

I especially enjoy how we finally get to hear more from Mike Mills on this album. This is probably the most he has been featured since Out of Time, although I would love it if he got to sing lead again sometime in the future. The most powerful part of Collapse Into Now is at the end of “Blue,” when Michael sings the line, “Twentieth century/collapse into now,” and all of the music fades out except for the piano. It took me back to the end of “Electrolite” on New Adventures, when Stipe sang over and over “Twentieth century/go to sleep.” It took me back to the last time R.E.M. felt like R.E.M. The very end of the album tied everything up in a neat package for me and it felt nice. 

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.

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8 thoughts on “Special Andrew Cashmere Edition of Friday Recommends: R.E.M., Collapse Into Now

  1. Automatic for the People = Emily, except you forgot to insert the adjective “apple”!!!!!!

    My one claim to fame with REM: I was bartending an Aimee Mann show at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. Mike Mills was in town and also at the show. He came up to the bar, ordered a $4 glass of wine. Gave me a twenty, I gave him his change, and he stuffed a $10 in the tip jar. Thank you Mike Mills! Then, when it was my turn to clean the dressing rooms later that night, what did I find? Mike Mills HOTEL ROOM KEY to the Opryland Hotel. I kept it.

    Love, ladyvoreblog.

  2. We perused the videos that R.E.M. has released for Collapse Into Now to embed one at the end of Mr. Cashmere’s post, but they are all awful. That’s the worst thing that can be said about the album.

    If Out Of Time through New Adventures was Smoking Hot Woman phase, was Monster her having too much to drink after a soccer game and puking on herself? Or her just picking a really bad dress for a big occasion, like Sarah Jessica Parker at the Oscars every year?

    My Smoking Hot Woman phase would run from Lifes Rich Pageant through Automatic, with New Adventures being a, “Whoa, I didn’t know she still had moves like that.” I prefer to forget Monster ever happened.

  3. Monster would be bad outfit, nothing more. It’s still pretty decent (at least a 6 or 7) and I think it gets more hate than it deserves.

    1. Did Monster make fun of your wood class napkin holder project or smash your mailbox in with a baseball bat or steal your girlfriend at the sophomore Homecoming dance? No? Some of the hate is well-deserved, my friend.

  4. Andy, I thought your album review was really good. I have already begun comparing other legendary rock band careers to pretty girls from high school whose looks have changed in different ways.

  5. Oh, Ryan does LOVE REM.
    He told Michael Stipe that he loves him as much as me…in front of me…it was awkward for Michael and I who just looked at each other while standing next to his tour bus. Ryan has now convinced me that he actually does love me (and now also our children) more than any members of REM.

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