R.E.M. is back. Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe never really went away, but R.E.M. hasn't seemed the same in recent years.
The R.E.M. that has re-emerged in 2008 is, once again, the one fans first loved.
The consensus on Accelerate, the Athens, Ga.-based trio's 14th studio album, is that it's the group's best work since the 1997 departure of drummer Bill Berry. British music weekly NME says the album, released in April, "crucially echoes a time when they made their best music, if not necessarily their biggest-selling."
In March, R.E.M. seemed re-energized by the new material at a show in Austin, Texas, where the band was in a playful, celebratory mood.
Now, R.E.M. is taking its rock 'n' roll revival to the world. Stipe, bassist Mills and guitarist Buck's European tour runs into early October.
Recently Buck, 51, answered questions from his Seattle home about the new album.
Did you change the way you'd been making albums for Accelerate?
Yeah. It seemed like we'd turned into one of those bands that just book like a million months in the studio and just beat it to death. The last record, for me, just wasn't really listenable, because it sounds like what it is, a bunch of people that are so bored with the material that they can't stand it anymore. I kept saying, "Guys, we've got to be focused, we've got to be prepared in the studio. Rather than booking two months, let's book 10 days." And it worked really well. We went in, everyone was really prepared. There was a lot of energy, because it was such a short period of time.
So making yourself do it in a shorter period was beneficial?
I've been saying that for 10 years, and no one ever listened to me. Having some kind of restriction on what you can do can be a positive thing. It means that you have to make decisions. And the last record was a record where there wasn't a single decision made for the first seven months. I just couldn't do that anymore. And I think the other guys kind of agreed that it didn't work. We needed to make a focused record, and you have to be focused.
Do you think you achieved that?
Yeah. I feel real confident that it's a good record and represents who we are right now and the spontaneity that we can bring to the shows when we play live.
Did you feel like you had something to prove with Accelerate?
Really, only to myself. I mean, as far as everything else, I could never make another record and I'd be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I'd be rich and people would still remember me to one degree or another. But I want to make great records. I want us to be a great band. And I don't see any reason in doing it if we're not great. We never had any problem on stage, it's just with the recording aspect of it.
Has playing the new stuff re-energized the live show?
When we took the songs over to Dublin to play them to get ready for the record, it just felt real great. It totally felt like this is the band we are, and this is where we should be.
If you could go back and give that young version of you one piece of advice, what would it be?
Buy Microsoft? Honestly, I don't care about money. I think the idea is that, if somehow I knew I had some goal to work toward as a teenager, life would have been a little happier as opposed to being kind of a nutty, depressed teenager. But I think it's better not to know. I got lucky, and I did the right thing.
What is the most important ingredient in R.E.M.'s longevity?
We're just really stubborn. I feel like I still have things I want to accomplish. I never really understood that whole thing where people get in a band, it gets kind of successful and they decide that what they really want to do is not be in a band anymore, or not work. To me, this is what I do. I wanted to make a lot of records. I want to make great records.