R.E.M., Royal Albert Hall, London

Stipe masters fine art of the comeback

REM know how to trumpet the release of a new album. They've taken over the ICA for a day of events, including a playback of Accelerate, their perfectly sequenced and compact 14th studio album, which harks back to the glory years of Fables Of The Reconstructions and Life's Rich Pageant.

There was a photo exhibition of some of the iconic shots of the group taken by Anton Corbijn and Rankin as well as lead singer Michael Stipe, who put in an appearance, though he didn't stick around because had a soundcheck to contend with. REM couldn't possibly have played at the ICA without causing a riot. They had instead elected to play the Royal Albert Hall for the first time.

As befits the occasion, Stipe is wearing a smart suit and tie. It's a pleasure to watch such a world class band, especially when Peter Buck spends 90 per cent of his time playing the Rickenbacker guitars that were such a trademark of the group's sound 25 years ago.

Fuzzy opener "Living Well's The Best Revenge" and "Accelerate", the most appropriate title track, show the band have recovered the urgency and passion that made them such a vital force in the first place.

Stipe is not given to the grand gesture and is a rather balletic frontman, holding his arms aloft and then fiddling with his jacket, his cuffs and the lectern holding his lyrics. At one point, he is so lost in the moment, he does a little smile to himself and tilts his head to the side like Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects.

They were mostly premiering their new album but still find time for the arpeggios of "Drive" and the mandolin-led "Losing My Religion".

"I'm Gonna DJ" and "Horse To Water" prove how immediate Accelerate is. Stipe still has George Bush in his sights as "Mansized Wreath" and "Final Straw" demonstrate he's also the music fan, referencing Jimmy Webb's "Galveston" in "Houston". There is light at the end of the tunnel, a bright light, "Electrolyte". As Stipe sings the coda of "I'm Gonna DJ", "music will provide the light you cannot resist".

REM are back, and how.

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