Friday, June 14, 2019

R.E.M. – In Time: The Best of R.E.M. (Album Review)

While I’m not always a huge fan of greatest hits compilations (especially for bands that I’m a super fan of), R.E.M. has an unmistakably stellar track record of nailing the format to perfection. After the release of Eponymous in 1988 (which chronicled their early years on I.R.S. Records), the band released In Time: The Best of R.E.M. in 2003 to cover their years on Warner Brothers records. While I missed snagging a vinyl copy of In Time upon its initial release, Craft Records has just released the first vinyl pressing of the jam-packed greatest hits collection in over 15 years. While it’s always nice to have a first-run, this new pressing from Craft is certainly worth the wait, as it’s actually the release’s debut on heavyweight 180-gram vinyl and its 18 tracks are spread out over two discs. While the double LP is available on standard black vinyl, I was stoked to snag one of the translucent blue copies – a wax color choice that looks fantastic alongside the simplified color palette of the album’s artwork.

Cataloging the band’s most popular and ubiquitous major label period, In Time features tracks from their politically-minded, commercial smash of Green to the electronically leaning bounciness of Reveal. Standout selections from Out of Time, Automatic for the People, Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and Up – as well as soundtrack entries from the films Man on the Moon and Vanilla Sky – round out the collection. What’s great about this tailored tracklist is that you can truly hear the band navigating the heights of their musical celebrity, maturing through the departure of drummer Bill Berry, and finding new footing as a trio. In Time also features two previously unreleased tracks, the wonderfully frantic “Bad Day” and “Animal.” Rough versions of “Bad Day” had been rolling around in the R.E.M. camp since the mid-‘80s (under the name “P.S.A.”), but was officially finished (slightly updated and renamed) for In Time. To give the greatest hits compilation a feeling of fresh life, the band released “Bad Day” and “Animal” as singles and even shot fantastic music videos for both.

Alongside the otherworldly music and truly beautiful packaging for In Time (strikingly simple blue artwork on the front and back cover, thick gatefold housing, color liner insert), one of its best features is guitarist Peter Buck’s song-by-song liner notes. Effortlessly dancing between commentary, recollections, and analysis that are both insightful and tongue-in-cheek, Buck manages to capture the grandeur and the unaffectedness of the band in equal measure. He rightfully acknowledges that “our career can be divided into two parts: pre-Losing My Religion and post-Losing My Religion,” he refers to “Stand” as “the stupidest song we’ve ever written,” and states that “Everybody Hurts” “doesn’t really belong to us anymore; it belongs to everybody who has ever gotten any solace from it.” As a personal favorite, he also explains the unconventional means by which one of their most beautiful songs, “Nightswimming,” came to be. All in all, the songs are incredible snippets of the band’s high-profile period, the packaging is incredibly well crafted, and the translucent blue wax variant provides a nice aesthetic touch to the spinning of this welcomed reissued gem.

In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 Tracklist:
"Man on the Moon" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)
"The Great Beyond" (from the Man on the Moon soundtrack, 1999)
"Bad Day" (previously unreleased)
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (from Monster, 1994)
"All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star)" (from Reveal, 2001)
"Losing My Religion" (from Out of Time, 1991)
"E-Bow the Letter" (from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996)
"Orange Crush" (from Green, 1988)
"Imitation of Life" (from Reveal, 2001)
"Daysleeper" (from Up, 1998)
"Animal" (previously unreleased)
"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)
"Stand" (from Green, 1988)
"Electrolite" (from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996)
"All the Right Friends" (from the Vanilla Sky soundtrack, 2001)
"Everybody Hurts" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)
"At My Most Beautiful" (from Up, 1998)
"Nightswimming" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)

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