Warner Bros - 2003 - CD 1: 76 minutes, CD 2: 61 minutes
When you think about it, REM have managed to reach almost everybody at some point. Their sixth album, 1988's 'Green', brought them to the masses', 'Out of Time' and 'Automatic For The People' kept them there, and even though their star has fallen steadily since 'Monster' in 1994, they've still kept it interesting. And of course, lest we forget, REM's 1980s output is standing up extremely well two decades later.
So, with many bands now releasing 'Best Of's after only four or five years on the go, it's nice to see one from a band who actually have the material to fill it. And what material. Everybody knows these songs - or at least most of them - so there's no need for description here. There are two new songs, 'Bad Day' and 'Animal', and the only thing you need to know about them is that they're unremarkable.
Other than that, this is pretty vintage stuff. It's probably no coincidence it begins and ends with a song from 'Automatic For The People', REM's most defining album. 'Man On The Moon' - the quintessential REM song - is a strong opener, while the beautifully realised 'Nightswimming' is a perfect closer. In between those, there are sixteen songs. Over ten of these are great, and about half that number again are bona fide classics. Which ones? Well, 'Losing My Religion', 'The Great Beyond', 'At My Most Beautiful' and 'Orange Crush' for starters, not to mention the haunting 'E-Bow The Letter'.
Everyone will have their own particular favourites, of course, which is one reason why some will be disappointed not to see 'Near Wild Heaven', 'Drive' or 'Find The River' here. But it's probably a measure of the rich vein which REM have mined throughout their existence that they could afford to neglect such gems.
For zealots, perhaps the best thing about this compilation is that some formats include a second CD, a bonus disc of rarities and b-sides. It's not all good - 'Chance' is the worst thing they've ever recorded, and '2JN' is pointless - but lots of it is superb. Best of all is 'Out of Time' outtake 'Fretless', which is arguably one of the five best songs REM have ever written. Yes, that good. There are also gorgeous acoustic versions of 'Reveal' highlights 'The Lifting' and 'Beat A Drum', an interesting acoustic version of 'Pop Song '89', as well as thrilling live renditions of 'Turn You Inside Out', 'Drive' and 'Country Feedback'.
What else? Well, there's a book of sleeve notes in which guitarist Peter Buck provides a little background to all 33 songs. The notes are sometimes revelatory, often humorous, and always shot through with the intoxicating modesty and natural ease which has helped to make REM one of the most accomplished and consistent bands of the last 25 years. Listening to them has been a rare pleasure.
CD 1 Tracklisting: Man On The Moon - The Great Beyond - Bad Day - What's The Frequency, Kenneth? - All The Way To Reno - Losing My Religion - E-Bow The Letter - Orange Crush - Imitation Of Life - Daysleeper - Animal - The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite - Stand - Electrolite - All The Right Friends - Everybody Hurts - At My Most Beautiful - Nightswimming
CD 2 Tracklisting: Pop Song '89 (acoustic) - Turn You Inside Out (live) - Fretless - Chance (dub) - It's A Free World Baby - Drive (live) - Star Me Kitten (feat. W.S. Burroughs) - Revolution - Leave (alt. version) - Why Not Smile (alt. version) - The Lifting (demo) - Beat A Drum (demo) - 2JN - The One I Love (live) - Country Feedback (live)