I know this old news to most of you.
Like many music fans of my generation R.E.M. was an integral part of my rock n roll education. They're what my friend liked to call a "gateway band", a popular act that could introduce one to non-mainstream music. Despite this I haven't owned a record of theirs since Bill Berry left the band. I'd heard that their latest release, Accelerate, was a "return to form" but I hadn't actually heard any song from it until I heard Bill Kelly play "Supernatural Superserious" on his show on WFMU. At first I wasn't even sure it was R.E.M. but those Stipe/Mills vocals are pretty unmistakable. Intrigued, I picked up a copy of the album.
"Return to form" albums are a fairly dubious proposition. It seems like a very conservative if not retrogressive notion bucking the rock crit mandate that bands "evolve." However, one could also make the case that sometimes bands will lose focus and follow their ambition to points that are not their greatest strengths. (See Young, Neil; 1980s) They need to bring it back to what they do best and that seems to be the case with Accelerate. Those expecting another Murmur will likely be disappointed. Accelerate more evokes the muscular rock sound of Document or Green, though you couldn't mistake its sonics for anything recorded in the late 80s. At 11 tracks in 36 minutes it's a quick, engaging listen that sounds great when it's on even if it only has 2 or 3 very memorable songs. Not exactly reason to rejoice but hell, that's 1 or 2 more memorable songs than their entire post-Berry output up until this point. ("The Great Beyond," in case you were wondering.)
Folks who hold R.E.M. near and dear may find Accelerate to be the 2008 equivalent of Dinosaur Jr's Beyond. And if it generates interest in R.E.M.'s back catalog or 80s underground rock in general that's fine with me. If the the kids were listening to Hüsker Dü instead of Hot Chip, the world would be a better place.