R.E.M. is a group synonymous with the development of alternative rock. The band enjoys a cultural legacy comparable to classic rock artists of the early 1970s and R &B groups of the 1960s. Twenty-eight years after their debut, the critically-acclaimed Murmur, little has changed in R.E.M.’s specific sound and signature style. Every element of Collapse Into Now, right down to the production of guitar timbres and reverb-infused percussion, is grounded in a retro quality that recalls the early years of college rock.
When one remembers that previously-mentioned legacy, the sonic consistency is understandable; why change something when it has proven to be effective? One can draw aural comparisons to bands that range from The Decemberists to the most appreciated works of Radiohead, but R.E.M. continue to purport the sound with an earned confidence and strength.
One of the most intriguing elements of the group’s sound rises to the front and center for the majority of the album. Michael Stipe’s vocal delivery and accompanying lyrics ensure that the listener’s attention never falters as the melodies march onward. There is an air of striking command that is complimented by the almost-fractured poetic rhythm of the delivery; the combination almost always shatters through the haze of vintage production. Specific examples do not bring justice to the overall sense of passion expertly exerted by Stipe from track to track.
Beauty also lies in the ice-melting texture of each instrument as it smoothly blends among the retro atmosphere. The environment is warm, sweet, and incredibly reminiscent from “Discoverer” to “Blue”, and that is due in no small measure to the expressive nature of the guitar and keyboard work. A mellow, folk-like quality permeates “Überlin”; a tense energy dominates “All the Best”; both tracks are carried by R.E.M.’s signature style of music.
Collapse Into Now experiences an occasional collapse in quality from time to time, a ridiculous lyric here, an over-extended track there, but nothing ever destroys the album’s consistency. Everything comes back to consistency for the band. Capitalizing on a style for which they hold a level of responsibility proves to be a good if not great decision for R.E.M. and, apart from the slight sense of predictability, there is only one issue; Collapse Into Now could more appropriately by titled Collapse Into Then.