R.E.M.’s final album, back in print, and well worth another listen

R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now (Craft Recordings)

The last word from the beloved Athens’ band, available on vinyl, and CD after many years

On the cover of Collapse Into Now, R.E.M.’s 15th album, the band seems to be waving goodbye.  We didn’t know it at the time, but this was their final record.  It’s definitely worth hearing again.  Craft Recordings has just reissued it, along with several other latter-day R.E.M. albums, in digital and vinyl formats.  

Icon Fetch reviewed the album back in 2011 and we said “your favorite band has finally made another great record.”  A dozen years later, we stand by that statement.  

“Discoverer” starts things off, and it’s everything we’d come to love from their halcyon days where the band could do no wrong – pounding drums, slightly-distorted yet, still jangly guitars, and Michael Stipe’s undeniable vocals.  Mike Mills was always the group’s secret weapon, and his bass work really shines on “All The Best.”  Things shift for “Uberlin,” which is led by Peter Buck’s acoustic guitar – I forgot just how good a song this was, with great vocals from both Stipe and Mills.  

“Oh My Heart” was a love letter to Katrina-torn New Orleans, and it’s wrapped in mandolin and accordion. Here, Stipe’s fragile vocal is perfect. 

The beauty of this record is that it touches on a lot of different textures.  The acoustic “It Happened Today” echoes the band’s earliest work and features Eddie Vedder on the coda, while “Every Day is Yours to Win” has a childlike quality.  “Mine Smell Like Honey” has a fantastic bridge that makes you forget how the rest of the song is kinda goofy.  

“Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter” featured Canadian musician Peaches and is one of the band’s better, latter-day rockers.  “That Someone is You” is very catchy.  

There are times when Stipe’s vocals are pretty shaky, as on “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I,” but it certainly works in the context.  

“Blue” is the final track on their final album, and it’s messy, as any end often is.  Stipe recites repetitive poetry while Patti Smith coos in the background and the band gently plays.  Eventually, Smith is given the spotlight and it’s really moving.  After four minutes, the band returns to the first song, “Discoverer,” a cyclical effect where the end is actually just the beginning of something new.  

In retrospect, I think we’ve all forgotten just how good R.E.M. was, not just at their peaks, with Murmur or Out of Time or Automatic For the People, but throughout their career.  While their albums from the late 90’s and early 2000’s seemed to be about struggling to find out who they were, Collapse Into Now finds R.E.M. finally comfortable in their own skin.  It is a fitting final album from one of America’s greatest bands.  

A note about the new vinyl edition: the packaging is identical to the 2011 version, including the lyric sheet insert.  The real difference is in the sonic quality of the actual vinyl – the highs and lows are richer than my original pressing from 2011, which sounds brittle.  Let’s face it, some companies, like Craft, have learned how to improve the vinyl format.  This edition is 180-gram and is very quiet.  

Collapse Into Now, along with their other, latter-day albums, deserve another look.  Thanks to Craft for giving us the chance.  —Tony Peters