They’ve been making arena rock to for two decades at this point, so it’s natural that they seek out a producer who knows that area well, and Pat McCarthy’s replacement Jacknife Lee (whose resume covers U2, the Editors and Bloc Party) helps them make their loudest album since Monster. And not only is it loud, it’s also fast: at 11 songs spanning 34 minutes (5 of which don’t even hit the 3-minute mark), Accelerate truly earns its title, and that’s a welcome reprieve of the unearned 50 to 60+ minutes of their albums since Monster. And surprisingly, there are no bad songs here, something that can’t have been said about any of their albums since – you guessed it – Monster (though I don’t get much out of “Man-Sized Wreath” except the guitar feedback or “Supernatural Superserious” except the backing vocals, which uses the same 4 chords that they’ve long milked dry, and the self-referencing “Sing for the Submarine,” mostly because of its 5-minute length). Truthfully, the major flaw here is that they’re about seven years too late to the party; had Accelerate been released in the post-9/11, post-Is This It? world, the angry lyrics and vocals matched with razor-sharp guitars in Velvet Underground chord progressions and a drummer who actually knows what he’s doing would’ve been so relevant, critics might’ve ate it up even though R.E.M. had been unhip for quite some time by then.
The major draws are “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” whose opening guitar line and drum entrance harken back R.E.M.’s glory days (the guitar line is so good, in fact, that the band essentially repeat it on acoustic guitar for “Until the Day is Done”) and “Houston,” in 6/8 time with huge slabs of sound punctuating throughout that make it their most successfully experimental track ever (recall, they were never so good with experiments; see the second half of Document). And maybe “I’m Gonna DJ” too, which bristles with confidence, even though hearing Michael Stipe yell “I’m collecting vinyl, I’m gonna DJ at the end of the whhhhurrrlrllddd!” breaks my heart a little. Still: their best album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi.