R.E.M.’s freefall into irrelevance was underlined in fat black Sharpie for me when a promo copy of Behind the Sun came to the music magazine where I worked and sat on the giveaway table like the last piece of pizza at a party—the one with bottle caps, cigarette butts, and someone’s crumpled phone number stuck to the tomato sauce. No one was quite drunk enough to try and eat it.
When R.E.M. Live showed a few years later, it was more like someone had dropped their pants and defecated. As a building full of self-respecting (and admittedly not much else) music snobs we walked quickly pass the table, glancing over just long enough to see if anyone had cleaned it up.
I have to admit my skepticism when the hype machine began to hum for the Athens Three’s newest release, Accelerate. Even the decent single Supernatural Superserious didn’t assuage my doubts. It wouldn’t be the first time the band had a good tune walk point for an ill-trained, lackluster squad of songs (Although let me say right here, Stipe should retire the word “cry,” and all of its derivatives from his rhyming dictionary right now. I’m old enough to remember an interview in the late ’70s with the Eagles agreeing to do the same with the word “desert.” Of course, look where it got them, so never mind).
The thing that put me in the car and off to the shop was the SF Chronicle’s resident ass clown Aidin Vaziri’s review in the Sunday pink section. If Vaziri came out against trepanation, I’d have to go knock a hole in my own head just for the fact that he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. Ever.
So, with mallet in hand, I dropped the new rekkid into the box. Imagine my surprise! I soon dropped the hammer and started pogoing around the room. Gone are the layers Upon layers of synths, replaced with renewed purpose by Peter Buck’s guitar playing. It had superseriously bummed me out to see all those beautiful Gretsches going to waste.
The biggest revelation is the prominence of Mike Mills’ bass in the mix. Long languishing in secret weapon status, his classic Fender P is up front and rock solid, and I am reminded that, yea, this is the band that took the Minutemen out on tour.
Was Accelerate a calculated move? Perhaps, but if the last eight years in America have taught us anything, it’s that a plan isn’t always a bad idea.
Is it derivative? Hey, it’s rock ’n’ roll.
But once again, I like it.