Thirty years (and millions of album sales) ago, the Athens, Ga. band R.E.M., led by singer Michael Stipe, released its debut single, "Radio Free Europe," and ushered in a new sound for rock music. Today, the band is releasing its 15th album, Collapse Into Now. And with it, R.E.M. "makes a case for its continued relevance," says Kyle Anderson at MTV News. Really? After all these years? (Listen to a track from the new album)
Yes, they still rock: You can still hear the "conflict, confusion, doubt" that the band is known for, and the album is refreshingly broad, with "punk raves" and "stately ballads," says Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone. Long ago, R.E.M. "basically invented everything halfway interesting that guitar bands have done ever since," but they still "sound like they'd rather be a band than a legend, which must be why they keep pushing on."
"R.E.M. Collapse Into Now"
And they're aging gracefully: "Can an R.E.M. album ever feel like an event again?" asks Martin Aston at BBC. Maybe. Their latest feels as "varied and deep" as some of their classic albums. In fact, R.E.M. hasn't sounded so complete and together since their longtime drummer, Bill Berry, left in 1997. "And that, folks, is an event."
"As deep as previous R.E.M. classics, and perhaps their best post-Bill Berry LP"
The band hasn't innovated enough: "Synth-powered duos, bedroom soloists and artistically polyamorous collectives define innovative rock now," says Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times. R.E.M.'s guitar-heavy sound is dated, compared to the likes of Arcade Fire and Animal Collective. The band claims to have expanded its range on the new album, but R.E.M. isn't doing anything new here, which lessens the emotional impact.
"Album review: R.E.M.'s Collapse Into Now"
R.E.M.'s best days are behind it: "What better band to cover R.E.M. than R.E.M.?" asks Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune. On its 15th album, R.E.M. does just that, reminding listeners that the "glory years" are long gone. Guests like Peaches, Eddie Vedder, and Patti Smith are there "to dress things up, but they're used in predictable ways." The new songs only serve to remind us of better old songs. "If there's to be a vital future for R.E.M., the band can’t continue recycling its past."
"Album review: R.E.M., Collapse Into Now"