While touring throughout 2008, R.E.M. knew they had a decision to make. Their contract was up with Warners and the question was ‘what happens next?’. Stipe remarked that: “I need to be away from this for a long time.” Buck suggested: “How about forever?”
“Oddly enough,” said Mills later, “I think that independently we all arrived at the conclusion that this was such a great opportunity to walk away on our own terms, that we thought why not take advantage of it?” So it was that in the spring of 2009, the band went into a local studio in Athens, GA. to start recording demos for the songs that would form their 15th and final studio album. Over the next 18 months, they would record in Portland, Nashville and New Orleans in the States, before decamping to Berlin for the final sessions. It was there, in the grand Meister Halle in the world-famous Hansa Studios, that reality set in.
“We tried to enjoy it and make it as fun as possible,” recalled Mills, “But we’re not super-sentimental people in that sense. The only time we got really poignant was when we were in Berlin where we recorded seven or eight songs. There was no one there really except some friends, family, and significant others, and we knew that was probably the last time we would ever play together as R.E.M. That was a pretty fraught day. But it was fun.”
Collapse Into Now is a deliberately more varied and expansive record than its immediate predecessor. It included special guest appearances by Peaches, Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, and referenced their past at numerous points while also showing their comfort with where they were at the time, ready to draw a line under a stellar 30 year career. It’s not a particularly consistent record – it doesn’t really hang together terribly well to me – but it has some very fine moments.
Of its five – FIVE – digital singles, three were given a physical release in the UK in the form of a triple-pack of 7” singles for Record Store Day. Collectively titled ‘Three’, it kind of displays the various moods and reference points the album gives us.
The curiously-titled Mine Smell Like Honey is a rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on Accelerate. Its understated verses give way to a rousing chorus that has R.E.M. written all over it. Überlin sounds like Drive, a song that 20 years earlier opened the band’s biggest-selling and best-known album, the one that made them global megastars. It’s probably the most intriguing song on the record. Stipe explained: “I wanted to picture an almost blunt outsider’s perspective – the experience of a guy who is walking through a city that is completely new to him and still very unfamiliar. I just tried to figure out the mind of this outsider. The city could as well be New York. In each of these big, great cities, you can be completely alone. This is the guy up to the last verse, when he finds somebody and says: ‘Let’s try to make something happen. Tonight. Right now.’”
Oh My Heart has another protagonist going to a city, only this time s/he is returning home to New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. The brass instruments lend an almost funereal feel to the song, while Buck’s trusty mandolin returns to lend another air of Automatic For The People to the proceedings.
mp3: R.E.M. – Mine Smell Like Honey
mp3: R.E.M. – Überlin 
mp3: R.E.M. – Oh My Heart
The b-sides were all recorded live during their last ever tour in 2008, featuring songs from very different points in the band’s career. Supernatural Superserious, from their then-current album, was captured in North Carolina; Harborcoat, from 1984’s Reckoning, is from a show in Riga, Latvia; and What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? comes from Oslo in Norway. All three presented here were ripped by yours truly from the 7” singles.
mp3: R.E.M. – Supernatural Superserious [live]
mp3: R.E.M. – Harborcoat [live]
mp3: R.E.M. – What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? [live]
I always felt Collapse Into Now was a slightly underwhelming way for the band to bow out, mainly due to its inconsistency. Nevertheless, it’s still very listenable and does contain a few songs I’d still put on a highlights playlist.
Next week, we bring this whole shebang to a close as we tie up some loose ends and bring you R.E.M.’s swansong. I’ll also have some news for those of you who still need an R.E.M. fix every Sunday morning…
7 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Parts 49 – 51)”
Completely agree with everything you said. A good but not great album that has echoes of their career running through it. Felt like an ending when i first heard it so wasn’t surprised when they called it a day.
While I never got to see REM live, I hope they never reform.
I bought this album on release (but didn’t buy Acclerate) and I can’t explain why (in either case). It sounded ok but it didn’t stick with me and I doubt I’ve listened to it since the year it came out. The way they decided to call it a day, and the conversation quoted above, is so R.E.M.
I was thinking that everyone who’s followed this series and left comments should do their own R.E.M. ICA. Would be really interesting to see what we’d all go for.
However inconsistent “Collapse into Now ” is, and I don’t think it is a great album by any stretch, I was pleased that the band managed to end at a relative high point, rather then just fizzling out after “Around the Sun”. Not a bang, not a whimper, but a solid set of songs that I am still happy to listen to.
This serieshas been a delight. I love @bagging areas idea of ICAs, but don’t want to be forced into choosing just 10 tracks by one of my favourite bands!
I’ll happily do a top 10 of REM…
I know it’s nicking someone else’s idea but we could also do a world cup of REM – 32 tracks to 16 to 8 to 4 to 2 to the winner!
Just to mention that, a long time ago, I had stab at a couple of R.E.M. ICAs:-
Sept 2016 : ICA #91 – https://thenewvinylvillain.com/2016/09/20/an-imaginary-compilation-album-89-r-e-m/
May 2017 : ICA #125 – https://thenewvinylvillain.com/2017/05/17/an-imaginary-compilation-album-xx-r-e-m-2/
I will miss this series. A great compliment is that it has
urged me to fill the gaps in my R.E.M. LP collection – even
the posts and comments about the less-revered releases
I have enjoyed this series so much and the latest installment was no exception. If nothing else (and let’s face it, there is plenty else!), it has opened my eyes and ears to later period R.E.M. and added a poignancy to their inevitable exit from the stage. What’s made this series so special and in my opinion a cut above the similar career retrospectives that you may find elsewhere is that this has been a heartfelt, warts-and-all story of a fan’s relationship with the band. There has been lots of background to the band, the songwriting, the touring, the highs and lows of being R.E.M., but equally what it’s felt like to be an R.E.M. fan, from the moments of sheer joy to doubt and despair to (I think) the enduring legacy of long-term relationship with a band and its music. I think the weekly comments have probably said it all, but thanks again, this is really something special.