What makes Accelerate a great album is not just that it followed the largely unremarkable, humdrum and painfully middle of the road Around The Sun, and followed it by heading in the opposite direction. No, not that, although undeniably it is a relief that it implicitly rejects its predecessor. The true greatness of Accelerate is in its quick-fire running time. When you’re bored, as Peter Buck said R.E.M. were at the time of Around The Sun, the contradiction of work is that you tend to labour over it. Not wanting to do results in procrastination, which leads to delay, fatigue, inertia.
Inertia is why, even if the songs on Around The Sun sound like they’ve been painfully laboured over, because they sound laboured, it’s more likely the opposite has happened: slack work resulting in slack songs. The songs on Accelerate, on the other hand, are short and precise because they have been worked out and worked over. The more you want to cut away, the more work you have to do to get it right: minimalism might have the appearance of doing nothing, but actually it’s a whole heap of not doing, without which it can just look clumsy or amateur.
From Living Well is the Best Revenge through the first half of Accelerate, almost no baggage is left in. Man-Sized Wreath, Supernatural Superserious, Hollow Man, all storm in and out in the blink of an eye, a fiery anger, and an uncompromising guitar attack. There’s no great depth on display, not much variety, but in terms of stripping everything back and starting from scratch, it’s no mean feat to go this big this long into a career. It’s also a lesson in what might have been had the same ethos been applied to Monster.
Sure, the momentum starts to flag somewhere in the middle. Until The Day is Done might be a welcome change of pace, and a chance to take stock, but it never quite picks up again for the second half of the album. Mr. Richards seems to want to retread vocal territory already covered by Hope from Up; it’s dubious territory after that track ended up with a credit for Leonard Cohen as a result of the debt it already owed his song Suzanne.
The album signs off with two thrashes - Horse to Water and I’m Gonna DJ - and then it’s thank you very much, see you next time. And that’s the end of the best disposable rock album R.E.M. could have possibly made.