With its 15th proper studio album Collapse Into Now, R.E.M. has created something of a career retrospective. Rather than revamping its sound, as it has done for the past 10 years on records like Up and Accelerate, the band has embraced the sound it pioneered in the mid-80s and early 90s. Instead of sounding outdated and unoriginal, Collapse Into Now is a diverse set of tunes that makes R.E.M. sound as relevant as ever.
Michael Stipe's delivery in album-opener "Discoverer" has the swagger and urgency that people have come to love from the frontman, and many of the tracks that follow continue that trend. Peter Buck's jangling, chiming guitar sounds as radical as it did on its 1983 debut Murmur, and Mike Mills' harmonies are his best in recent memory.
"Oh My Heart" and "It Happened Today," which features Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, are two of the band's best songs to date, each dealing with daunting subject matter of loss, confusion and fate. But in true R.E.M. fashion, Stipe makes them sound hopeful and endearing. The addition of legendary singer-songwriter Patti Smith, as well as sex-obsessed electronic musician Peaches, on vocals brings a new dynamic to the band's sound, which rarely features female vocals.
When a band is still releasing material after 31 years, it's natural to be apprehensive about new songs or records. It seems, though, R.E.M. has entered the realm of timelessness. "This place needs me here to start/this place is the beat of my heart," Stipe achingly sings on "Oh My Heart." I think he's telling listeners that the world needs R.E.M., and after many listens to Collapse Into Now, I can only agree.