Wednesday, September 13
R.E.M. ON I.R.S.
I still remember the first time I heard Arcade Fire's Funeral. The experience was, in a word, "discombobulating." I had become so accustomed over the years to settling for albums containing just two or three worthwhile tracks (at best), that to discover one that brought me wall-to-wall ecstasy seemed almost a first-of-its-kind experience.
In fact, I would have had to go back a full seven years to find the last time I had so "lost" myself in a full-length CD. That CD was OK Computer, and, in that case, I had at least been primed for the possibility of a transcendent event by my on-going adoration for The Bends.
Before THAT particular experience, I would have had to set the wayback machine to 1992, when R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People was occupying all of my time and attention. It was then that I finally, finally got around to investigating that band's early works, and they were nothing short of a collective revelation. Murmur, in particular, remains a unique and exquisite aural experience, and I can't help but envy all of those prescient pioneers who jumped the R.E.M. bandwagon long before it became cool to do so.
Even now, 25 years after releasing their first single, R.E.M. and their early recordings retain a certain cachet in the music business. All of those early recordings were released by the now-defunct I.R.S. Records, but Capitol has gone ahead and broken into the I.R.S. vault, sifted through the one EP and five "official" albums of the period, and released And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years (1982-1987). The collection is divided into two discs of 21 tracks each. As one might expect, the first CD collects the more "traditional" stuff - singles and popular album tracks. The second offers up the ephemera - live performances, alternate takes, and a personal favorite from each of the band members (including long-retired drummer Bill Berry).
As is usually the case with these things, the second, "bonus" disc is likely to appeal only to the most serious of R.E.M. fans. And even that presents something of a problem in this case, as the truly serious will have already collected these tunes and performances over the years, by one means or another. Thus, the sticker on the package proclaiming "10 unreleased tracks!" - while technically correct - will be scoffed at by the many who have been trading bootlegs and outtakes amongst themselves since well before any of the Arctic Monkeys breathed air on Earth.
[On the plus side, the full set seems to be selling for just $14.99 (U.S.) at Amazon.com, so that ain't a bad bargain.]
I heartily encourage anyone who hasn't heard much of R.E.M.'s early stuff to strap on a good pair of headphones, crank up the volume till you can barely stand it, and settle in for the ride. One way or another, it's bound to move you.
[A quick note: the songs below are my own mix and have nothing to do with the official release - though you'll find many of the same songs on both collections. Also, some of you sharper-eyed folk may notice that I neglected to include any tracks from Murmur. No doubt, your instinct is to scream, "Blasphemy!" I can only assure you that this was a conscious choice - made because I find that particular album to be so of-a-piece that to tear any of the leaves from the tree is to strip it of the very things that made it beautiful to begin with. Or something like that.]
To acquire the tracks below, please left-click [HERE].
01) Radio Free Europe [Hib Tone single]
02) Can't Get There From Here
03) So. Central Rain
04) I Believe
05) The One I Love
06) Ages of You
07) Driver 8
08) Pretty Persuasion
09) Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)
10) White Tornado
11) Femme Fatale
12) Begin the Begin
13) These Days
14) Fall on Me
15) Welcome to the Occupation
16) Exhuming McCarthy
17) Disturbance at the Heron House
18) Green Grow the Rushes
21) Wendell Gee
22) It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)