I got the new REM album, "Accelerate." In an interview, Michael Stipe had said that it had "negative ten" mandolins on it. He was telling the truth. The album rocks, as it were. It needed to rock, too, as Steven Colbert's interview implies, because REM had gotten a bit... swallowed up.
I got REM's first single, "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still," on Hibtone Records (I can get $131 for it? Wow). Anyway, I then got "Chronic Town," "Mumble," and a few others, but it seemed to me that each album had some good songs, some bad songs, and a few old songs. Then they went acoustic. The results were interesting. That success, though, gave them the golden ticket.
It's normal for bands to go through this, to start off pissed off or exuberant and then slide around in the lumpy gravy of self-importance. Some bands go into it very quickly, too (e.g. Live). Some take a long time. There is a sort of grid you can use to predict when your favorite band will become a navel-gazing colossus of insipidness. To find out when a band will Vanish Up Its Own Butt (Vuob), apply this formula:
((Musicianship - lyric depth)/ (cult-status* prophetic role)) * record sales = Vuob
It's positively requisite that a band vanish up its own behind. I have left out the variable of drug use, because drug use can substitute for Vuob or merely distort it. An early 1970's band would begin doing bigger doses at decreasing intervals, and a metal band would begin drinking more cases in less time, and the result would be pants wetting and infantilism, if not incoherence, but that's not the mandatory self-absorption I'm talking about.
In fact, Vuob isn't even my point. My point is the resuscitation. Bands who go into the world where they fly in on jets to see each other for a month and make an album, having neither spoken nor worked on anything in the months prior, are going to make crummy stuff. Singers who spend their year being prophets and poets and who then jet in with a notebook of really Important ideas are going to have lyrics that few can sing with and none want to. Bands with self-awareness get the idea, sooner or later, from the boy who brings the bagels or the limo driver, that they've lost it, and then they decide... oh, alright... they'll succumb to stupid expectations of stupid fans and try to do a record like the old ones again.
It never works, or it almost never works.
The thing about a bean bag chair is that it's a lot easier to sit in one than to get up from one. In the process of standing back up, you tend to flop a bit. I am here not to condemn, but to praise REM, because "Accelerate" has them standing up again and yet not sounding like they used to. They not only have urgency and friction again, but they haven't gone back to Rockville. It's a good record.
Yo La Tengo did the same with "i am not afraid of you and i will kick your ass." After the last two records, I knew they were in the beanbag chair. They could make a nice largo, and that's what they did, for two records end-to-end. "Pass the Hatchet" makes it clear instantly that they have not forgotten how to do physics and get energy out of electricity.
This particular blog post is a nothing, but I mean to praise those famous men and women who manage the unimaginable: to return to form. Losing form is as easy as obesity or self-pity. Getting form back takes work, and kudos to those who do it, who know what they're missing and work to get back to being completely unlike themselves again. Good for REM, and good for Yo La Tengo.