Sound — 9
"Collapse Into Now" is R.E.M. being R.E.M. As Michael Stipe liked to say, "We are R.E.M. and this is what we do." The singing is crisp and clean (with the exception of "Blue," but that's a story in itself), the instruments hearken back to the early days of "Murmur" and "Reckoning" in their raw sound and power. The only problem is the apparent decision to move away from singing on bridges - most of the bridges on the album are instrumental only, and it takes something away from the R.E.M. we know and love. And then there's "Blue," the haunting distortion-laden track that brings back memories of "E-Bow the Letter" and "Country Feedback," and after you've listened to it, even if you can't pick out what Stipe is saying, you know in your heart this is the last true album.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics are as mysterious as they are plain, and like any good R.E.M. song you really have to pay attention to pick up the full meaning, or interpret it in your own way. We see Stipe recalling previous pieces, particularly recalling "Houston" in "Oh My Heart," which besides the similar tune contains references to the storm not killing me and the government changing. Then there is the "tick-tock clock" reference on "Every Day Is Yours To Win," which goes back to 2004's "Around the Sun," where he described getting caught with the stop of the tick-tock tick-tock clock on the strangely addictive track "The Outsiders." But I digress. "Discoverer" sounds like an introduction to a final journey, even more so in retrospect when you listen to the last minute of "Blue." But in other spots the lyrics are lacking. "It Happened Today" feels too short, like the story can continue beyond the drawn-out Stipe/Mills "aaahs" at the end, and there's something just odd about Stipe saying "I am not a hater."
Overall Impression — 8
"Collapse Into Now" really is R.E.M. going back to where they belong - in fact, had "Blue" not been the perfect closing track, "We All Go Back To Where We Belong" would have been a wonderful second choice instead of being a bonus track on a compilation. The mix of tracks is done well, with powerful electric jams being interspersed with acoustic jangles and slow grab-your-heartstrings movements in just the right way. In fact, the album recalls 1988's "Green" in sort of a poignant way - the similar sound seems appropriate, considering "Green" was the band's first album on Warner Brothers and "Collapse Into Now" would wind up being the last. Despite the lacking qualities of some of the lyrics, it's an album that I can still listen to over and over again, without getting tired of it, which I can't say about "Reveal," for example. At the time it came out, I had the impression that this would make a wonderful album for the band to go out on, and much to the dismay of the fans that prediction turned out to be true. But unlike other bands, I think R.E.M. can say they went out on a high note, wrapping up a career nicely with an album that sounds like a long and heartfelt farewell, while still never losing the qualities that make them who they are.