I have greeted the last half-dozen R.E.M. albums or so with an “er—OK.” But Accelerate sounds like the real deal. The band not only rocks harder than they have in more than a decade, but also the songs have the classic, pop-merged-with-the-underground vibe that fueled R.E.M.’s rise in the 1980s. Peter Buck’s guitars jangle like the old days; Michael Stipe is in good voice; and even Mike Mills sings harmony just like on the old classics.
The first single, “Supernatural Superserious,” is a fantastic opening salvo, with the kind of stick-in-the-mind hook you thought the group had forgotten to write. Accelerate may not be a full return to glory, but it promises to stay in rotation longer than anything R.E.M. has done in a very long time.
Out performer King has been best-known as a guitarist to this point, with her vocals taking a back seat to her striking playing. On Dreaming of Revenge, she takes that side of her music another step forward with a mixture of her signature instrumentals and full-fledged vocal performances. King’s guitar playing is sterling as always. Not only does she have some of the best chops in the business, but also she has learned the delicate art of restraint. Instead of showing off on every tune, her playing is well measured, letting the emotion of the music do the talking in place of furious playing. Yet, King’s vocals are the real revelation here—though soft and hidden a bit in the mix, they carry real power.
Folk music can be too earnest for its own good as it devolves into shrill lectures; or, it can be so easygoing as to disappear. Sara Thomsen, an out artist from the Twin Ports, works in the delicate middle ground between the two, crafting music that is at turns angry, defiant, warm, and loving. Pulling together songs she has written over the past decade, Everything Changes is held together by her smooth voice and elegant delivery, along with the efforts of a talented team of musicians providing a warm aural backdrop. Thomsen tackles difficult political subjects—check out “A Woman’s Place” or the sprawling “All Across the Land” for examples. But I found myself drawn to the tales of everyday life like “I Remember Thee.”
The B-52s return for their first album in 16 years, and it’s pretty good—better, in fact, than you might think it would be at this late date. While often slapped with a “novelty” label for oddball hits—from “Planet Claire” to “Rock Lobster” to “Love Shack”—the band is a far more sophisticated outfit. So, it’s only fair that the B-52s gets another go in the spotlight. From the opening notes of “Pump,” it’s clear that Funplex is no cash-in release. The quartet still is fueled by the interplay among vocalists Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Fred Schneider, who trade lyrics, while the musicians—led by guitarist Keith Strickland—hammer out a hard dance beat that makes the last 20-some years melt away. Just listen to the pulse fueling “Love in the Year 3000.”