With its latest release, R.E.M. has perfected a two-part strategy for earning glowing reviews. Step A: Issue tepid to dreadful albums for at least a decade. Step B: Put out a decent CD and watch it be hailed as a Work of Genius!
That's pretty much the story with Accelerate. Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills wisely hired a hot young producer, Jacknife Lee, who gives the group a sonic vitality it's lacked for ages. Thanks to him, "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" and "Supernatural Superserious" actually rock in a tuneful way. Still, the collection is fairly slight — less than 35 minutes — and the tracks recall the group's celebrated early work instead of rivaling it. In the end, Accelerate qualitatively compares to 1994's Monster, a return-to-rock disc that most listeners originally regarded as just north of okay.
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Had it been preceded by ten years of suckage, though, it would've seemed like a masterpiece.