With 'Accelerate,' R.E.M. Hits Top Speed Again

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R.E.M. in concert i

R.E.M. has been playing around the world to promote their 14th album, Accelerate. Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty Images
R.E.M. in concert

R.E.M. has been playing around the world to promote their 14th album, Accelerate.

Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty Images

Download a track from the R.E.M. SXSW concert, in the All Songs Considered concerts podcast.

The band R.E.M. recently released Accelerate, its first album in four years. Critics have been describing the disc as a "comeback," saying it's the band's best album in ages and that the group is playing with "the urgency and insurgency they did in their early years."

Among the album's tracks: "Houston," which details the narrator's crisis of faith after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the government's unfocused response, and "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," which R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe has described as a reaction to modern media culture.

R.E.M. came together in Athens, Ga., in 1980, releasing its first single, "Radio Free Europe," the following year. It was initially an underground sensation, but within a decade its albums were entering the pop charts at No. 1; 1991's Out of Time, anchored by the smash-hit single "Losing My Religion," sold more than 4 million copies. Accelerate is the band's 14th album.

Stipe and bandmates Peter Buck and Mike Mills join Terry Gross to talk about the new album and the band's 28-year history.

SXSW 2008: R.E.M.

After 25 years as one of the most beloved and acclaimed bands in rock music, R.E.M. needed a shot of adrenaline to get fans excited again. In advance of its 14th studio album, Accelerate, the group performed a bracing and even blistering set at South by Southwest, webcast live on NPR.org from Stubbs in Austin, Tex., on March 12.

With Accelerate due in April, R.E.M. showcased many of the new album's most electric and energetic songs — each of which demonstrated a retreat from the more tepid sounds of the disc's poorly received predecessor, Around the Sun. Ever since original drummer Bill Berry quit the band in 1997, R.E.M. has experimented more in the studio, but its new material looks to the prime of the group's '80s discography, while maintaining a modern sheen. Judging from the response by the thousands of fans in attendance — as well as the engaged and outspoken performance by frontman Michael Stipe — there's reason for optimism.

Hear the other bands from this concert: Dead Confederate, Papercranes, Johnathan Rice, Summerbirds in the Cellar.

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