Noteworthy new albums: R.E.M. and The Black Keys
R.E.M. brake for nobody on 'Accelerate,' a comeback album of sorts, and The Black Keys expand their color palette with a little help from producer Danger Mouse.
R.E.M. Accelerate (Warner): Having already bade farewell to retired drummer Bill Berry, the remaining trio of R.E.M. seemed to lose another member, guitarist Peter Buck, on its 2004 album, "Around the Sun." His characteristic jangly slashes were largely in hibernation on a comatose record. By contrast, the opening three tracks of the new album – including the super-duper "Supernatural Superserious" – have a racing pulse that's galvanized by the business end of Mike Mills' bass; Buck, in full windmill mode; and a vocal sprint by Michael Stipe. They leave one's ears gasping for breath. And yet they're just warm-up laps for the album's exhilarating, and appropriately named, title track. Some of the band's greatest moments have been slow to mid-tempo songs, a tradition upheld here by "Hollow Man" and "Sing for the Submarine." Stipe's political anger is intact, too. It's a strong album, even if it ends with "I'm Gonna DJ," a real groaner. Grade: B+ – Stephen Humphries [Editor's note: The original version misstated the album that included the song "Daysleeper"]
THE BLACK KEYS – Attack and Release (Nonesuch): The Black Keys, two young white dudes from Ohio, have long been making the gnarled, chunky blues music that belonged to generations of black troubadours. Now, they've enlisted the production help of Danger Mouse, of Gnarls Barkley fame, tossed a few low-end beats into the pot, and stirred the whole thing to a screaming boil. "Remember When (Side A)" is the best of the bunch – 21st-century blue-eyed soul, sung through a bullhorn, channeled into a broken mic, and sent floating above an aqueous blast of reverb. But everything else is grand, too, as befits Danger Mouse's talents. Check out the sinewy "So He Won't Break." It may be the blues, and it may be strange, but that doesn't mean it can't feel good. Grade: A– – Matthew Shaer