Once again, the music press and the fan faithful are working on their “return to form” statements regarding R.E.M.’s latest rekkid. The Boys from Athens have just released their How to Diffuse an Atomic Bomb on the ’80s “alternative” rock colossus timeline. Think about it.
After releasing one of their most sonically ambitious recordings—New Adventures in Hi-Fi could be seen as their Achtung Baby—they incorporated modern sounds and studio techniques that stripped much of the heart out of their music (Up/Reveal/Around the Sun vs. Zooropa/Pop), slid into irrelevance, and came slamming back with a hard charger of back-to-basics rock: Accelerate and All That You Can’t Leave Behind respectively.
Like U2’s sophomore born again release, there is a lot to like on Collapse Into Now, but one can’t help feeling that time will show it to be nothing more than a successful stop-gap, hopefully, on the way to their late-period masterpiece (Yes, I think No Line on the Horizon was that good).
So, it is R.E.M. by the numbers? Maybe. Is that a bad thing? No. In a word (or five): Rickenbacker, mandolin, Patti Smith, boom!