THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Parts 47 & 48)

Accelerate is a very good album, a real blast. Each time I listen to it I get really into it. Just when R.E.M. had singlehandedly killed their career, they pulled off what was undoubtedly their best record in a dozen years. It’s the sound of a band who suddenly remembered where they came from, why they started a band in the first place and why people took to them from the get-go.

After the uplifting introductory track Supernatural Superserious, Hollow Man was released as the album’s second single on 2nd June 2008. It was the fourth track on Accelerate and starts as a bit of a come down after the high intensity of the opening triptych of songs, opening with Mike Mills at piano and Michael Stipe’s plaintive opening lines: “I’ve been lost inside my head / Echoes fall on me.”

Those last three words can’t be lost on you. Just like Lifes Rich Pageant, Accelerate is a short record and its opening tracks come at you with a ferocity you can’t escape from. Then they bring things down a notch. On LRP, the slower track is… well, you know.

Thing is, Hollow Man doesn’t stay down for long. It comes to life in the chorus in which Stipe pleads with us to reassure him that he’s not quite the lost soul he thinks he is:

“Believe in me, believe in nothing
Corner me and make me something
I’ve become the hollow man
Have I become the hollow man I see?”

mp3: R.E.M. – Hollow Man

For a mournful ballad, it’s a loud one! Another example of what Accelerate stood for – a band going back to its roots, eager to show they still cared and could produce the goods when required.

Hollow Man was the last time R.E.M. graced the UK singles charts. Well, that is if you count reaching number 200 as gracing the charts. And I don’t, actually. But it’s not important. There was just the one CD single. It included a live-in-the-studio track recorded in Vancouver. Horse To Water is one of Accelerate’s shortest, noisiest, fastest songs and this version rocks like the proverbial bastard. This could very well be the angriest, punk-sounding song R.E.M. ever made.

mp3: R.E.M. – Horse To Water [live]

Apparently a second CD was planned for release in Europe (which as per previous releases usually included the UK), but for some reason it was cancelled. It would have included another Beat Happening cover, this time a track from their second album Jamboree. The original was sampled by Massive Attack for Teardrop and is rather Velvet Underground-esque in its minimalism and simplicity. R.E.M. turn it into a hazy, hypnotic trip, a sun-drenched psychedelic jam that sounds even more like the Velvets, especially during their extended coda. One of their best covers, one of their best b-sides. Such a shame it was never released.

mp3: R.E.M. – Indian Summer

JC interjects……The Robster supplied the mp3s when he fired over the words he’s written for today. This was the first time I ever heard the various songs not on the album.  Indian Summer is already barging its way high up into my list of all-time favourite R.E.M. recordings.  It’s really a relief that they stayed together for Accelerate and beyond as it would have been a tragedy to have bowed out after Around The Sun.

The third single from Accelerate, released on 11th August 2008, was another stormer. You know, they might finally have gotten the hang of this releasing decent singles malarkey. Man-Sized Wreath takes aim at the shallowness and the “pageantry of empty gestures” that permeate 21st century culture, politics and business. That’s how I hear it anyway. It’s got a quite brilliant couplet in the second verse that even for a songwriter of Michael Stipe’s ridiculously high calibre is quite a magnificent feat:

“Nature abhors dystopia but what’s between your ears?
Your judgement clouded with fearful thoughts, headlights and a deer. Ow!”

I love that lyric. No, I’m not being ironic, I really LOVE that lyric!

mp3: R.E.M. – Man-Sized Wreath

I mentioned last week the ‘working rehearsal’ concerts R.E.M. played in Dublin prior to recording Accelerate. As can be heard on the subsequent live album, Stipe had his doubts about Man-Sized Wreath.

“This next, new song will not be on our next record,” he tells the audience.

Really?” queries a rather perplexed Peter Buck.

“It’s a little early to make that call.” Stipe concedes that point before suggesting it could be a b-side, to which Mike Mills retorts: “There are no b-sides anymore, it’s all MP3s.” Well, that wasn’t strictly true…

Man-Sized Wreath was track two on Accelerate and made up a third of the frenetic opening to the album. It was followed by Supernatural Superserious, but it was preceded by what could very well be the best opening track on an R.E.M. album. And yes, I did write that even after considering Radio Free Europe, Harborcoat, Begin The Begin and Finest Worksong.

Living Well Is The Best Revenge was not a single, and for that alone we should be in mourning, but a live-in-the-studio version was included on the B-SIDE of a 7” single (the only physical format released in the UK), albeit with a different title owing to a daft question posed by Peter Buck at the start which results in much mirth from his bandmates.

mp3: R.E.M. -Living Well Jesus Dog

There. That certainly blew away the cobwebs, didn’t it? WHAT. A. SONG! I mean, jeez – was this really the same band who recorded fucking Wanderlust???

Final proof that Mike Mills was wrong comes in the form of another live track released as the ‘b-side’ to the three-track digital download of the single. Another excellent version of a track from Accelerate.

mp3: R.E.M. – Mr. Richards [live]

It seemed R.E.M. were back at the races. Accelerate had the sound of a band with a new lease of life and many fruitful years ahead of them…

The Robster

 

12 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Parts 47 & 48)

  1. Another great post. Couldn’t agree more withe everything you’ve said about Accelerate and these singles. Never heard Indian Summer before – thanks for posting.

  2. I’ve spent ages trying to convince a friend that “Accelerate” is a great album. If reading the last two posts don’t prove it, nothing will. That version of “Living Well” is fantastic – takes something to improve on the album version.

    I agree with everything you said about “Accelerate”, including the excellent choice of singles (not that I bought any of them) and almost on your suggestion of greatest album opener. But “Feeling Gravitys Pull” for me.

    A great, teasing last line as well. Hinting at not only the end of the band but also that this excellent series is coming to an end. What will Sunday mornings be like without it? Certainly less thought-provoking and enjoyable. Unless there is another series on a band with as much invention and longevity as REM lined up. Does such a (almost universally acknowledged) band exist?

  3. A great read and … as ever, I’ve harvested a nugget – I had no idea R.E.M. covered Indian Summer. The original is an enduring favourite of mine . None of the covers, that I’m aware of, have bettered it – in my opinion. I will delay listening until later on my walk. I have high expectations.

    I think I’m right in saying I don’t own Accelerate – my CDs are in storage – I’ll check when I return home. Rest assured, based on the sterling work of The Robster and JC (and commentators) if I don’t have it I soon will.

    There’s a palpable sense that R.E.M. really did want to leave the stage with a bang. It seems with Accelerate they achieved that.

    A truly fantastic series. What a commitment!

  4. … got a tad excited and couldn’t wait for my walk to listening to Indian Summer. It’s curious – it’s very much a close cover of the Spectrum cover rather than the Beat Happening original.

    From one listen – my ranking:

    1. Beat Happening
    2. Spectrum
    3. R.E.M

  5. Given the number of bands that have covered it, Indian Summer is the indie My Way. Never heard a really bad version but Luna’s might be the favourite.

  6. @flimflamfan: I hereby make a request for a Beat Happening ICA… Not a band I know a whole lot about other than the “well-known” songs.

  7. I don’t own Accelerate, don’t know why. Completely lost interest I guess but I did buy Collapse Into Now after being told it was a return to form. So these songs are largely new to me. Their cover of Indian Summer is very good, exactly as an REM cover of it should sound (I’ve posted the Spectrum cover and the original at Bagging Area, it’s one of those songs that keeps coming back around)

  8. @chaval: agree that Luna’s version of Indian Summer is the best. Dean Wareham jokingly called it “Indie’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
    Another great post, Robster.

  9. @therobster71 – I’m sure there are those better qualified to put together a Beat Happening ICA than I but it’s now under consideration.

  10. First time that I’ve heard any of these songs and I really enjoyed all of the songs. I’ll definitely be getting Accelerate on the strength of Robster’s & JC’s writing and and the music. Two weeks in a row and I’m genuinely excited about what is to follow, without having any idea how good/bad Collapse Into Now and its accompanying singles are.

    I liked Indian Summer a lot. I really only know the original and Spectrum cover thanks to Swiss Adam/Bagging Area, so I’ll check out the Luna and other versions out there. I’ve only heard a handful of Beat Happening songs, so another vote from me for an ICA.

  11. Wasn’t aware of Hollow Man until now – and am glad
    to make its acquaintance. Another Accelerate purchase
    pending here. Let’s get it in the chart.

  12. I’m really just echoing everyone else’s feelings- had given up on REM by this stage and hadn’t regretted it until now- just downloaded Accelerate and had my first listen – wow its good- will take a few listens to work out just how good, but the drive and energy is gripping. –

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