REM review

Same old score with Michael Stipe and co's 15th album

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3/5

There aren’t many people who can persuade us that the albums released by the six-legged REM are equal to those the eight-legged version released before Bill Berry’s 1997 departure. Bands that have been going for 30 years, as REM have, spend most albums chasing their tail, trying to relive that first flush. But for whatever reason, they’ve been particularly lost without Berry.

Interest has levelled off too. Do we really need a 15th album that sounds like the previous 14? The empty seats on the band’s last UK tour suggest we don’t. Yet finally REM have two 21st-century albums – this and its 2008 predecessor Accelerate – that won’t make their faithful followers cry out in anguish.

To bypass their inability to change, they’ve injected a huge dose of elephant epinephrine – and wit too. It’s there in the self-parodying ‘Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter’, and in the grungey, vim-and-vigour, straight-off-‘Murmur’ blast of ‘All the Best’, on which Stipe sings, ‘It’s just like me to overstay my welcome, let’s just sing in rhyme, give it one more time, show the kids how to do it fine.’ On ‘Oh My Heart’, he even sings, ‘The kids have a new take on faith.’

We’re not going to herald REM for sounding like they did on Monster and Automatic for the People. But these maxi-fuzzed, melody-and-mandolin-strafed garage-pop tunes do have charm and verve. Stipe even takes his rhyming of film stars to enjoyably silly levels, bringing to mind Bobby Gillespie’s style of picking rock ’n’ roll clichés from a hat and stringing them together. And guest appearances from Patti Smith, Peaches and Lenny Kaye should tell you that, at the very least, this isn’t bloodless.

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