2008's Accelerate gave R.E.M. fans some hope that they might be able to overcome their late-career slump, but its focus on loud rock guitars wasn't exactly what most of us are looking for from the band. So it was with cautious optimism that we approached Collapse Into Now, their 15th (!) studio album.
You can almost hear critics and fans all over the world breathing a huge sigh of relief. Collapse is a genuine return to form for the band, blowing away anything else they've done for more than a decade. There are still a lot of fuzz guitars, but this time they're balanced by enough jangly picking and mandolins that it still sounds like the R.E.M. we used to love.
A lot of guest musicians are on board, but don't pay too much attention to that. Without the liner notes, you'd have no idea that Peaches, Joel Gibb, Eddie Vedder and Patti Smith are shouting along in the background. Okay, Smith's wail on album closer Blue is recognizable, but not obtrusive in the least.
Collapse Into Now feels like a reunion with a dear old friend you lost touch with many years ago.
Top track: That Someone Is You