After a decade struggling with their relevancy, R.E.M. regained a sense of purpose on 2008's Accelerate, their most focused album in years. But on their 15th record, Collapse Into Now, they're back to their late-'90s/early-'00s shuffling of moods, sounds, and consistency. There are straight-up rock numbers ("Discoverer"), soggy ballads ("Oh My Heart"), and midtempo pop songs ("It Happened Today"), but not much that sticks. R.E.M. aim for scope after the mostly static Accelerate, but the jumps from fuzzbox guitars to orchestral arrangements here are more meandering than expansive. The dropped-in guest singers (Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, etc.) don't help. "Show the kids how to do it fine," Michael Stipe sings in the rocker "All the Best." Maybe 20 years ago. — Michael Gallucci
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.