This mostly works well, much to my surprise. Accelerate is probably not the best R.E.M. album by any stretch of the imagination. But it is absolutely a worthy addition to their “oeuvre”. It’s notably ballsier than pretty much anything R.E.M. had recorded since the 80s, and this is particularly apparent on opener Living Well is the Best Revenge. It really just takes off. Everything has that live-in-the-studio feel, with a subtly gritty edge which suits the songs. Stipe’s lyrics are as idiosyncratic as ever, with a few nuggets of truth spun in there.
Produced by Jacknife Lee, this is also one of the shortest of their albums, at under 35 minutes. Because the songs are mostly faster, harder, more immediate, there’s less of the slow brooding atmospherics that made them so big in the mid-90s. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but if you’re looking for those big anthemic sing-along numbers, you’ll go wanting. It’s very much a back-to-basics kind of record – something I generally disapprove of as a cynical ploy – but Accelerate has a genuine vital spark to it.
I particularly enjoyed Man-Sized Wreath, the title-track, and Horse to Water. Accelerate is full of energy and life. In fact, it actually sounds more alive and real than most of their post-80s material.
By the way, I got this for £3, marked down from £4, marked down from £5, marked down from £16 (literally three price stickers on the case). Kind of a shame that R.E.M. are one of those bands popular enough for mainstream audiences, but really only known for four or five hit singles, so any new release will fade into obscurity in the long shadow of their earlier successes. Even I went into this album with some trepidation. Colour me pleasantly surprised.