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Album Review

R.E.M.’s dynamic follow-up reveals a vital heart

(Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images/File 2008)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 8, 2011

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The songs on “Accelerate,’’ R.E.M.’s album from 2008, aimed to do exactly that. They were hard and ephemeral, clipped and careening, as if to announce the Athens, Ga., rockers had a renewed lease on their long career. A sense of immediacy, which had leached out of the band’s recent work, pervaded those performances.

That album, however, now sounds like kindling for its crackling follow-up. “Collapse Into Now’’ builds on “Accelerate’’ for something less primal, but much more insightful, varied, and, frankly, pleasurable. It’s hard to remember the last time R.E.M. seemed so at ease and yet still so vital.

Working again with Jacknife Lee, who co-produced “Accelerate,’’ the new album roars to life with a handful of turbo-charged rockers (including the first single, “Mine Smell Like Honey’’), but the dialed-down moments are the most revealing. Frontman Michael Stipe has rarely sounded as humble as he does on “Oh My Heart.’’ “I came home to a city half-erased/ I came home to face what we faced,’’ he sings. “This place needs me here to start/ This place is the beat of my heart.’’

Along with cameos by Eddie Vedder (“It Happened Today’’) and electro-punk singer Peaches (“Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter’’), Patti Smith, a longtime muse to Stipe, turns up on “Blue,’’ the ambient closer that bears her elegiac lyricism.

It’s one of several moments where optimism seeps into the songs, never so eloquently as on “Every Day Is Yours to Win.’’ Consider it an addendum of sorts to “Everybody Hurts’’: “I cannot tell a lie/ It’s not all cherry pie/ But it’s all there waiting for you/ Yeah, you.’’

ESSENTIAL “It Happened Today’’