"First-ever" is a bit of a misnomer. While it is the first set to cover their entire 31-year career, it is, in fact, their eighth compilation album (and fourth "best of"). They also have two 2-CD live albums, both recorded since 2007. And the band has been releasing expanded remastered versions of their classic mid-80s albums.
So, coming on the heels of their break-up announcement, and six weeks before Christmas, this release feels like a cash grab. (I'll perk up and grab my wallet when Buck, the group's archivist/packrat, starts compiling rare and live box sets. He has said the band filmed and recorded shows on every one of their tours.)
I was absolutely smitten with them, and with Buck especially, who played the part of cool older brother/record store clerk, turning everyone on to new bands, recommending albums, holding forth on all matters concerning rock and roll. (My college radio show was called "Life And How To Live It", a song of their 1985 album, Fables Of The Reconstruction.) R.E.M. came to Vermont for the first time on Halloween night in 1986. My review* for the good old Burlington Free Press began:
Critics pounded their typewriters like pulpits when R.E.M. released their debut album in 1983. 'Murmur,' a dense menagerie of sounds, moods, and mind-pictures, and its single 'Radio Free Europe,' built a cult following on college campuses that has grown and threatens to make them, baring any commercial breakthrough, America's best 'unknown' band.* I'm amused that although I loved the band back then, my review is not a rave: "Uneven in its pacing, the two-hour, 28-song set built too many highs that weren't sustained. ... [T]he band put the crowd on a roller-coaster ride of emotions that didn't settle until the second half of the show." That was Friday, October 31. Laura flew up for the show/weekend. I went down to New York the next Friday (November 7) and we saw them that night at the Felt Forum.
It turns out a commercial breakthrough was not that far away. "The One I Love" and "Stand" cracked the US Top 10 charts, but it wasn't until "Losing My Religion" was released in 1991 that the band became a household name.
Some video (some of which I have posted before):
October 10, 1982 - Raleigh, North Carolina (46 minutes)For LHTG, it looks like R.E.M. has taken the All-Star Game approach, picking at least one song from each of their 15 studio albums (even Around The Sun, aka the 1899 Cleveland Spiders). The three unreleased songs at the end of Disc 2 were recorded earlier this year.
June 9, 1984 - Passaic, New Jersey
Driver 8 & Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)
Harborcoat / Seven Chinese Brothers
May 27, 1985 - Meredith College, Raleigh, North Carolina
Life And How To Live It
October 2, 1985 - Grugahalle, Essen, Germany (95 minutes)
Nerd Alert: This is where I pick my own 40-song set. If you are unfamiliar with the band's music, you should probably stop reading now and go do whatever else you had planned for today. I obeyed the ASG rule, and allowed myself the option of ignoring hit singles. Of which, surprisingly, there are few. In the end, only 14 of my choices overlapped with the band (nine on D1 and five on D2). Not that the other 26 songs are poor choices (though some are); I simply liked mine more.
I'd like to reassess all of R.E.M.'s albums this winter. In recent years, I have learned that I am lukewarm (at best) about an album I thought I loved, a much-maligned record is becoming one I quite like, and the record I'd take to the desert island has changed.