The Best of R.E.M. In Time 1988-2003 Really Isn't, but it's OK
By
J. Gordon
11/3/2003 8:13:14 AM

Most people I know worshipped R.E.M. pre-1985, and then dropped away as their songs became less steeped in poetry and more MTV-friendly. While it’s true that nothing beats the feeling and relevance of their music from those early years (say, from the album GREEN on back), the fact is that a lot of their newer songs are still better than a lot of the crap that’s on the radio these days.

Because The Best of R.E.M. In Time 1988-2003 [Warner Bros.] is the new stuff, it seems dumb to call it their best. And where are "Leave", "Be Mine", "Strange Currencies", "Star 69", "Drive", "Lotus", "Hope", "I'll Take The Rain", and "Circus Envy"? But this 17-track collection of songs from the albums GREEN through Reveal is comprised of their newer radio hits, and some of them, if you’ll recall, were pretty good. For instance, I’d forgotten about the coolness of “Orange Crush,” and the heart of “Losing My Religion,” or the amazing "Nightswimming." It was great to hear them again. Frankly, I think I’ve heard “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Everybody Hurts” a little too much, but it’s easy enough to skip them over.

There are a couple reasons to pick up this collection. Reason #1 is Peter Buck’s liner notes. For each song that’s on the album, he’s written a personal little history of how the song came about, a unique event around the song, and/or why the song did or didn’t make a certain album. It’s an insight you’ll never get owning the original CDs, and really gives you a window into Michael Stipe’s genius.

Reason #2 are the two new R.E.M. tracks, "Bad Day" and "Animal." While not the best things they've ever done, they're a must-have for fans. And on R.E.M.’s latest MTV hit, the notes for “Bad Day” read only: We started writing this song in 1986. We finished writing it in 2003. The sad thing is, between those years nothing much has changed. Too bad the sound of that song hasn’t changed from “It’s the End of the World,” huh?

Reason #3 to pick this up is the limited edition, enhanced rarities bonus CD, featuring live, acoustic and non-album versions of “Pop-Song ’89,” “Country Feedback,” “The One I Love,” “Drive” and others. This single disc version is preferable over the limited edition for all but the hardest of hardcore fans. That bonus disc contains largely live or alternate versions of well-known songs that sound better in their original state. If you're new to R.E.M.'s newer stuff, I also suggest picking up Automatic For The People and Out of Time, while Monster showcases the band's love of distortion.

If you’ve ever been a fan of R.E.M. then or now, or if you want a basic introduction to some of their newer stuff, you’ll want to grab a copy.

 

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