Aside from getting back together, the greatest threat to any band's legacy is not knowing when to call it a day. While REM had much distance to travel before entering that latter realm of self-delusion, the evidence to suggest that their best work was behind them was stacking up.

No must-have album in the past decade; crowds still coming in their droves but happiest when hearing the older material; and along with that ever-expanding status as a 'night-out' band an ever-diminishing appeal to younger listeners.

If you were 16 in 1988 'Green' and its predecessor 'Document' were almost regulation issue. Neither has jumped the generations to that age group today - and nothing from Stipe, Buck and Mills in the past 10 years has taken their place.

So 'Accelerate' is one of those real 'something to prove' albums, a category which, even the diehards would admit, is one which REM have been filed under too often of late.

The difference however between this and its predecessors is the amount of times it reminds you of why you like the band and for the younger uninitiated, the amount of times they'll be curious about what has gone before. Whether they find the time for these 34 minutes is a moot point, but unlike REM's other recent records they'll be missing out if they don't.

In opener 'Living Well is the Best Revenge', REM find a way back to that life-affirming urgency of 20 years ago and while nothing else here is quite as magical, 'Accelerate' offers many reasons to be optimistic about the future. The title track, 'Hollow Man' and 'Horse to Water' also showcase Peter Buck as a returned-to-form purveyor of fast, catchy riffs; 'Houston' and 'The Day is Done' are reasons for an all-acoustic album; 'Man-Sized Wreath' and 'Supernatural Superserious' are summer singles-in-waiting, while the swirling 'Mr Richards' has all the makings of a live favourite.

There are only two duffers. 'Sing of the Submarine' sees Stipe digging through his old lyric books and referencing songs of old and is too dreary. It is however more deserving of a place on the album than 'I'm Gonna DJ', a throwaway closer which some will rank in the same exalted company as 'Shiny Happy People'. It throws up great mental images of Stipe at his most onstage irritating and his cohorts high kicking their way through the chorus. Stop listening after 'Horse to Water' and you've a fitting finale.

While 'Accelerate' won't stop Stipe gazing off into the middle distance on an episode of 'Classic Albums', it's far more effective than many expected it to be and has recharged the batteries of those making the songs and those on the receiving end.

Harry Guerin