Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Release Day!

Did you know that R.E.M. has released a new album?


It's called "Accelerate"--their fourteenth (??) studio album.

As you know, if you have been reading this space since the beginning, I've been a long time fan of the boys from Athens, GA. Through the good albums, the great albums, the mediocre albums, and the disappointing ones, I've faithfully purchased, listened, and evaluated.

I read a review of "Accelerate" during one of the first late night sessions with Hannah back in February. If I remember correctly, the reviewer said it was straight ahead, R.E.M. rock like the old days. (He asserted that this was definitely a GOOD thing, redressing a bit of a mistaken path with "Around the Sun," a point I can't argue against.)

Anyway, I put in my preorder at iTunes and was rewarded with a pre-download of "Supernatural Superserious," the first single--if such a thing exists in this digital music model. (I don't listen to music stations on the radio, so I can't claim to know if it's been played.) I've enjoyed listening to it and today, I downloaded the entire album. I've given it about 2.25 listens so far and I can agree that it is definitely a more aggressive, quick-tempoed album with more style than their last few efforts.

So, in the spirit of a new release, I'm going to try and go back to remember the day that I first heard past R.E.M. albums.

Around the Sun: I don't have a lot of specific memories of this day, except to note that I remember leaving work to buy it at a big box store near work. (This was before I got the iPod and started downloading albums. So, this might have been the last "hardback" CD that I purchased? Well, no, that's a nice story, but it isn't true. I've purchased several Wizard Rock CDs since then. Oh well.) Anyway, this was the album around which I attended my latest R.E.M. concert. Though I haven't loved this album as much, I did enjoy the concert--and I was introduced to Now It's Overhead that night also.

Reveal: I have even less memories about the day I first heard this album. I guess that points to the lack of overall impact that these albums have made upon me?

Up: Back during my days at OSU, I heard a positive review of Up on NPR while I was driving home from campus. I remember very clearly that I was heading down the hill out of Grandview toward the interstate onramp to I-70. The radio review called out some technique of "Falls to Climb"--maybe my favorite song on the album--as a way of showing how R.E.M. was learning to adjust to life as a trio following the loss of drummer Bill Berry to a brain aneurysm during the previous album's European tour. ANYWAY . . . you can see that I liked this album, since I have such a vivid and specific memory about it.

I admit that Up was the beginning of a new band, and that this version of the group would later release their two weakest albums. But, I liked Up's style and sound.

New Adventures in Hi Fi: I've always been underwhelmed by this one, but I have always loved the visceral thump of "Leave," a song that has the kind of fuzzy guitar, distortion, and feedback that the band first embraced in Monster. This album is also significant in my R.E.M. history because it was the first one I bought in CD form. Hi Fi was something of a Live album, recorded during tours. It has it's aggro charm, but it's never been a strong favorite for me.

Monster: I bought this one while I was in grad school at Georgia Southern University. I listened to it, crammed in the multi-desked closet of the grad student office in our crappy history department building on the outskirts of campus. (GSU was growing and expanding during those years, so our "building" on the outskirts of the campus was really a temporary building--nothing more than a glorified, large, multi-halled trailer-type of structure. Such is the stature of the social sciences in the academic world. Even when the department "qualified" for a new building a few years later . . . it was just a better version of a newer temporary building.)
ANYWAY . . . the grad office was insanely small, just big enough to cram one, two, three, four, five desk into the space facing every which way. But we had fun when we were all in there between classes, talking about who remembers what. What I do remember, other than the fact that I bought Monster in cassette form . . . and that I very much enjoyed the "hard-rock style" of these songs . . . was that some of the grad students (in Georgia remember) amused themselves during off hours by having gun target practice and running contests with each other to grow the best Gettysburg-inspired beard. (Please note that I didn't participate in either of these contests.)

Out of Time: This one might be the most "important" release remembrance for me. I definitely know that I listened to "Losing My Religion" on a continuous loop in the dorm room that I shared with The Infamous G. I probably drove him up the wall, but he'd return the favor later. Of course, what makes this most important is that I met Lynda during this time, so that is probably affecting my opinions here. I'll still never forget a story relating to the video for "Losing My Religion." I showed it to mom during one trip home from college and she said that she enjoyed it--especially how Jesus was always back there in the background while Stipe was singing. After watching the video to try and figure out what she was referring to, I realized she was mistaking guitarist Peter Buck for Jesus. (Look around the 3:00 minute mark to see what I mean.) Just watching this video again and reveling in the clothes, hair--back when Stipe still HAD hair--makes me miss this medium-age R.E.M. a bit. This was when the band stopped being mine and became national. But, it was a great time, with a very good album. The group was beginning its second transition--from the a) original mumbly band of the early 1980s to the b) stridently political, yet mostly unknown band of the late Reagan years into c) the definitive 90s college band with the newly minted "alternative" label.

Green: My last few years of high school was when I fully embraced R.E.M. as "my" band . . . and all that this entailed in a South Georgia town that loved heavy metal (Metallica, Guns n Roses) and country (Randy Travis, the beginnings of Garth Brooks). I gained a bit of notoriety among some kids for seeing the group in concert in Atlanta during this tour. (And yet, throughout the night, I--foolishly--kept hoping they'd play songs from their first few albums. Even then, way before the possibility existed, we fans were preparing for the eventual threat of selling out. I'll say that I never really accused the boys of being sell outs. In fact, I've always given them credit for adjusting their sound and their inspirations. Really, I don't understand how people expect musicians to avoid this eventual change. R.E.M. has been operating for about thirty years and the band members have gone from college-aged to middle-aged. How can this NOT result in musical/inspirational changes?

Green was the band's first real shot at national pre-eminence. I distinctly remember purchasing it at the Peppermint Record store in the pitiful mall of Tifton, Georgia. (My hometown is not/was not/will never be a hotbed of musical innovations.) I guess I was lucky to find a copy. But I loved this album, though I did withhold affection for it's most famous track ("Stand") for many years. I suppose I was resisting the growing popularity that this song generated for the band's overall profile. I guess I was wanting to say, "Don't judge the band by this song. Go back and listen to 'Fall on Me' or 'The One I Love' or 'Swan Swan H.'"

ANYWAY . . . one final note. 

I can end this post with Green AND talk of earlier albums and songs because this post is about purchasing newer albums on their day of release. I was first introduced to the band via MSquared, who was attending Georgia Tech in the early 80s when R.E.M. was recording their I.R.S. label albums--excellent ones, all. So, I first listened to Document and Life's Rich Pageant, and those two albums are probably closest to my fan's heart. But I didn't originally purchase those initial discs. Do you see? I am NOT a hypocrite.

(ANYWAY . . . go, give Accelerate a listen. It's a welcome return to form.)

No comments: