In producing their most punchy album in about, oh, 20 years, R.E.M. has also provided Exhibit A in the Loudness War.
As glad as I am the band finally kicked a decade’s worth of dreary writing — I didn’t even make it through the first two tracks of 2004’s Around the Sun — Accelerate is really, really FUCKING LOUD.
I guess someone on producer Jacknife Lee’s engineering team thought, "Oh, look, a compressor/limiter plug-in. Let’s just crank this motherfucker up to 11, shall we?" (Yes, I know that’s not how compressors work, but surely you get the reference.)
Nuance? Maybe on the softer tracks, but Accelerate is mostly devoid of any dynamic range. And it’s a welcome change, really.
"Living Well is the Best Revenge" kicks off the album in a way not heard since Lifes Rich Pageant or Document. From there, the band offers a gritty, immediate sound, as rough and unpolished as the last few albums were lush and immaculate.
"Man-Sized Wreath", "Supernatural Superserious" and the title track are driven by nothing more than a two-guitar attack and a beefy rhythm section. Bassist Mike Mills might add a backing chorus, and guitarist Peter Buck might add a tortured guitar line. But for the most part, Accelerate strips away the post-Out of Time excesses to focus on the core — guitar, rhythm, vocals.
Yes, R.E.M. does offer some trademark slower tracks ("Houston" and "Until the Day is Done"), but they don’t drag the pace.
"I’m Gonna DJ" caps the album with a party track as infectious as the band’s cover of the Cliques’ "Superman".
Although the live sound and ear-crunching volume of Accelerate have their appeal, don’t expect an album chock full of singles. These tracks are some of the most melodic the band has produced in a long time, and Michael Stipe doesn’t sound a day over Document. But few tracks reach the level of "The One I Love", "Fall on Me" or "So. Central Rain".
I don’t mind. I’m just glad R.E.M. has recorded the kind of album that got me into them in the first place.
And a bit of extra juice from the mastering processing doesn’t hurt either.