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R.E.M.: A Classic Sound Regained

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R.E.M.: A Classic Sound Regained

R.E.M.: A Classic Sound Regained

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Now, a return for the rock band R.E.M. Today, it released its 15th album. And our critic Will Hermes says R.E.M.'s "Collapse Into Now" is the band's best album in years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE BEST")

M: (Singing) So over me. So pie in my face.

WILL HERMES: But by the aughts, they'd lost their drummer, and their music suggested they'd maybe lost their religion, too, so to speak. Now, they've made an entire album about getting it back, and they're not just preaching to the converted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE BEST")

M: (Singing) I just have to get that off my chest. Now, it's time to give on with the best. All the best. All the best. All the best. All the best, the best, the best. It's just like me to overstay my welcome bless.

HERMES: But R.E.M. don't make records about themselves, really. Michael Stipe is part of a generation of singers who often presume to channel a collective voice - like in this song, which suggests a Hurricane Katrina narrative but also casts a wider net.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH MY HEART")

M: (Singing) Storm didn't kill me. The government changed. Hear the answer call. Hear the song rearranged. Hear the trees, the ghosts and the buildings sing with the wisdom to reconcile this thing. It's sweet and it's sad and it's true. How it doesn't look bitter on you. Oh, my heart. Oh, my heart. Oh, my heart. Oh, my heart. Oh, my heart.

HERMES: I also love the weird final cut, where Michael Stipe does an inverted duet with his pal and mentor Patti Smith, Smith singing the verses while Stipe does the poetic ranting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

HERMES: By my math, "Collapse Into Now" is R.E.M.'s best record in about 16 and a half years. It does everything they've ever done well, even the thing that first defined them: making profoundly moving rock 'n' roll out of singing that strictly speaking, is unintelligible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SIEGEL: Will Hermes was reviewing R.E.M.'s new album, "Collapse Into Now."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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