Maybe it’s because I’m on album 15 of 15, and it’s exceedingly late, but at this point, as delighted as I am by R.E.M’s late career rock flourish, I’m cursing them a tiny bit for not dropping just a track or two from Collapse Into Now. But I understand, if you’re going to go out, it’s your last chance to get songs onto an album, you want to take that chance. And frankly, after thirty years of work you earn the right to pretty much do as you please. And like Accelerate, this is not exactly an album that outstays its welcome.
So let’s hear it for Collapse Into Now: R.E.M.’s final studio album, and a pretty decent sign-off by all accounts. Essentially it’s Accelerate part 2, with a bit more texture, and a little less direct force. It features one final, terrific blast of classic R.E.M. when That Someone is You swaggers in - and then out again - all one hundred and three seconds of it. It also features one final outstanding ballad in Walk it Back.
And all through the album, shadows of an entire career cast themselves gently over proceedings. In a roundabout way, it harks back to Green with its occasional daftness - the obvious lyrical direction of Mine Smell Like Honey, the ambitiously and artificially alliterative ‘Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter’. ‘Überlin’ is Drive in disguise, Peter Buck gets his mandolin back out for Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I, and Patti Smith is back to provides vocals on Blue.
And then, at the last, a coda. Stipe signs off by returning the album to itself, completing a circle with the title of the album, just as R.E.M. complete their time together:
It’s the final thing I sing, the last song on the record before the record goes into a coda and reprises the first song. The last thing we sing is “20th century collapse into now.” In my head, it’s like I’m addressing a 9-year-old and I’m saying, “I come from a faraway place called the 20th century. And these are the values and these are the mistakes we’ve made and these are the triumphs. These are the things that we held in the highest esteem. These are the things to learn from.” Not in a teacherly or professorial way, but just to acknowledge what was there and then move on. I’m ultimately not so much of a professor as a progresser. And I’m ready to move away from what I consider to be this weird mid-century dream that I feel pulls us as a country, and us as a culture, backward.