{mosimage}Finally, finally, finally.
    R.E.M. has made an album that not only returns the group to the sound and vibe of its early days, but it also rocks.
    Accelerate is the type of thinking rock fan's CD that not only has insightful, urgent and timely lyrics, but it's heavily drenched in guitarist Peter Buck's saturated, slightly distorted, roaringly angelic Rickenbacker.
    It's an album that I can see fans nodding along introspectively to the words of lead singer Michael Stipe one minute, while flicking their Bics and screaming "more cowbell!" the next.
It's the album the R.E.M. army has been clamoring for since 1992's masterful Automatic for the People.
    Like most people, I became hooked on R.E.M. in the early days when they were just another slightly known band out of Athens, Ga., that had a sound reminiscent of The Byrds mixed with The Beatles, thrown in a blender with some Rolling Stones, a couple of Bob Dylan's lyrics and a jigger of moonshine.
    Unlike most people, R.E.M. changed my musical life.
    When I started out my freshman year of higher education, I was the typical mullet-headed, beer-drinking Southern boy from rural Nowhere, N.C.; which means, my musical tastes ranged from Loverboy to .38 Special to Toto.
    And then my roommate, who I considered completey bizarre and possibly from another planet when I first met him, turned me on to R.E.M.'s first realease, Chronic Town (for you kiddies born after 1980, EPs were a smaller version of LPs This was 1982 and CDs were just a whisper to audiophiles -- vinyl still ruled, though it was in its death throes, like the dinosaurs just before they smote by the hand of God or a fatal comet or some form form of reptilian Bubonic Plague) which featured an inscrutable ditty called Gardening at Night which was either about harvesting psychedelic mushrooms in the late evening or raiding a pot farmer's illicit patch. It was the kind of music I imagined they played on Martian radio stations.
    And I loved it.
    Since that time, I've devoured every R.E.M. realease, until they lost me with the baroque-yet-mainstream Out of Time, featuring the ubiquitous hit single Losing My Religion that almost made me lose my faith in the band. Then they reeled me back in with Automatic for the People, yet lost me again with all their subsequent releases, which seemed to be R.E.M. either pretending to be The Smashing Pumpkins (Monster) or Britney Speares on acid (Around the Sun).
    Accelerate has me back for good; or at least until The Rapture, which, by the way is a central theme of this CD — armageddon, alienation and angst over this era of war in Iraq, ever-soaring gas prices, rumors of global warming, and Paris Hilton making movies.
    The standout track on Accelerate is Supernatural Superstition, which addresses the aforementioned angst, only this flavor of  anxiety is personal, not global, addressing the struggle of the teenage years. It's and anthem for the misfits and oddballs of high school who wore black turtleneck, didn't have perfect skin, and couldn't throw a football the length of the Titanic.
Consider these lyrics: "Humiliation of your teenage station/No one cares and nobody remembers." However, it ends with a hopeful note akin to how the nerds will inherit the Earth as we all make ourselves into something better as we age, except of course for the quarterback and homecoming queen who hit their peak at 18: "Realized your fantasies/And dressed up your travesties/Enjoy yourself with no regret."
    The themes of the end times and a time of confusion and despair return in the text of title track Accelerate ("Sinking fast, the weight chained to my feet/No time to argue with belief/I'm not alone, a thousand others dropping faster than me"), and Until The Day Is Done, which combines bitter testimony about the war in the Middle East ("The battle's been lost/The war is not won") and the Roman Empire-like road the U.S. is traveling down by trying to placate the public's fear with bread and circuses — i.e., the promised tax refund checks ("An addled republic, a bitter refund/The business first flat earthers licking their wounds/The verdict is dire, the country's in ruins.")
That's not to say R.E.M doesn't want you to dance to the music while we teeter on the eve of destruction. To paraphrase The Doors' poet/prophet Jim Morrison, "I'm going to get my kicks before the whole outhouse goes up in flames."
    R.E.M. dances on fire on the CD's final track, I'm Gonna DJ, which is a kissing cousin to the centerpiece of 1987's It's The End Of The World As We Know It, when lead singer Michael Stipe croons::  "I'm gonna DJ/Death is pretty final, I'm collecting vinyl/I'm gonna' dj at the end of the world/'cause if heaven does exist with a kickin' playlist/I don't wanna' miss it at the end of the world."
    Yeah, the world just might be in it's death throes, but R.E.M. is going to kick out the jams until God pulls the plug on the planet's respirator.

    Contact Tim Wilkins: tim@upandcomingweekly.com

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