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R.E.M. "Accelerate" (Warner Bros.)

"Accelerate" marks R.E.M.’s return to greatness, a return to singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist-singer Mike Mills all pulling hard in the same direction.

By road-testing all the songs and honing them to pack maximum punch in two- or three-minute bursts, R.E.M. eliminates the filler and sometimes meandering flourishes of their recent work.

The opening one-two-three punch of "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," "Man-Sized Wreath" and the first single, "Supernatural Superserious," puts any doubts to rest.

This is the best the band has sounded in 10 years, since 1998’s "Up," their first album as a trio after drummer Bill Berry left for health reasons.


"Living Well" features Stipe spitting out taunts ("Don’t turn your talking points on me, history will set me free") and insults ("The future’s ours and you don’t even rate a footnote now") as cranky as Buck’s revved-up guitar, while Mills’ soothing harmonies try to tame the snarl.

R.E.M.’s regained balance shows up in song selection as well, with the apocalyptic party-starter "I’m Gonna DJ" and the catchy pop of "Supernatural Superserious" offsetting more superserious concerns in the defiant, post-Katrina prayer "Houston" and the chiming, mourning folk-rock of "Until the Day Is Done."

— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

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