Warner Brothers Reissues

R.E.M.

You can argue that R.E.M. was, at one time, the quintessential 80s band. But it was during the 90s that they learned to refine their sound and craft their songs – all while expanding their audience. The move from I.R.S. Records to Warner Bros. would net R.E.M. a multimillion dollar contract; it would also give them more of a creative lease, which resulted in some of the best records of their long and storied career. Nine albums later, Warner has thrown in the towel and remastered and repackaged the entire WB catalog. Each album comes with an accompanying DVD that, in most cases, duplicates the original record in glorious 5.1 surround sound and includes selective live footage, interviews, documentaries, videos, commentaries, liner notes and archival photos.

Beginning with 1989’s Green, R.E.M. ascended from the underground slumber of their past to the mainstream scramble of the present. Instead of cowering from the adulation and scrutiny, the band seized the moment and unfurled hits like “Pop Song '89,” “Stand” and “Orange Crush,” alongside other perennial favorites like “I Remember California” and “World Leader Pretend.” The bonus DVD includes the surround mix of the album, as well as previously unreleased interviews with all four band members, videos for "Orange Crush" and "Stand," and a collection of photos.

Two years later, R.E.M. released another hit album called Out Of Time, featuring the mandolin-driven “Losing My Religion.” Both the album and “Losing My Religion" would scoop up three Grammys in 1991, which probably diminished the group's credibility with the hardliners, but topped off their bank accounts with lots of royalty checks. Still, tracks like “Belong” and “Me In Honey” demonstrate they still had the jangling edge they were known for. The bonus DVD features a surround mix of the original record as well as Time Piece, a previously unreleased 1991 20-minute documentary, along with interviews, the award-winning video for "Losing My Religion," and the obligatory photo gallery.

In 1992, R.E.M. released Automatic For The People, their artistic and commercial peak. The CD contains the poignant “Everybody Hurts,” the Andy Kaufman-inspired “Man on the Moon,” and “Drive,” a steadfast opener that appropriately sets the mood. Along with the entire album in surround, the bonus DVD features a short film that faithfully captures the band at work in the studio. Seasoned R.E.M fans claim this one is the best of the lot. It’s difficult to contest that claim.

1994’s Monster is far more upbeat and rockier than its predecessor. “What's The Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Star 69” lead the way as Peter Buck takes center stage and offers up some truly grungy chords. The DVD includes the album in surround, as well interviews and live performances of ‘What's The Frequency, Kenneth?,” “Let Me In” and “I Don't Sleep, I Dream.”

Even as their popularity began to wane, R.E.M. kept pushing the envelope with 1996’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi. The group cover a much larger canvas with tracks like “E-bow The Letter,” the extended “Leave” and “Electrolite,”’ a piano-driven ballad. The DVD contains yet another unreleased video documentary, and, of course, the whole album in surround, which, when you think about it, really lends far more credence to the album's title.

In 1998, R.E.M. released Up, their first album without drummer Bill Berry. Songs like “Daysleeper” and "Suspicion” showed the band hadn’t lost their step despite the fact that they were now reduced to a trio with a lot of backing support. Although the record wavers from one style to another, it certainly doesn’t feel as transitional as it may have been. The DVD features the album in 5.1, snippets from the unreleased film Uptake, which includes three songs and interview footage, along with song lyrics and a photo album.

2001’s Reveal is a throwback of sorts, indulging itself in the popular textures found on Out Of Time and Automatic For The People. Tracks like “Imitation Of Life,” and “All The Way To Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star)” are valid attempts at recapturing the days of old, but they fall short. Still, the overall craft of songwriting is still going strong. The bonus DVD has the album in surround, a documentary about the album, and a video for “I'll Take The Rain.”

In Time: The Best OF R.E.M. features 18 tunes, most of which appear on a previous WB albums up through 2003. Also included on the CD is “All The Right Friends,” from the Vanilla Sky soundtrack, as well as the previously unreleased “Bad Day” and “Animal.” For the casual R.E.M. fan, this set may be the ticket. The DVD includes the album in surround, as well as two videos for “Bad Day” shot in multiple angles.

R.E.M.’s latest Around The Sun, featuring the single “Leaving New York,” also gets the remaster and bonus DVD treatment. Heavily orchestrated and finely crafted, the record finds singer Michael Stipe somewhat somber, yet introspective in his lyrics. For a group that could pretty much do what they want, one may speculate they are beginning to sound cynical and mellow in their advanced age. Still, one can hope R.E.M. still have one last, solid rocker left in them. We’ll just have to wait and see.

~ Shawn Perry

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