R.E.M.: Unplugged 1991 & 2001: The Complete Sessions (Rhino, 2014)

May 20, 2014 at 12:23 am | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

R.E.M.: Unplugged 1991 & 2001: The Complete Sessions

R.E.M.: Unplugged 1991 & 2001: The Complete Sessions

I’ll always have a soft spot for R.E.M., but I’m not sure I’ll always have a soft spot for R.E.M.’s soft side. This 2CD collection features all of the tracks from both their MTV Unplugged sessions, including the outtakes that didn’t make the actual broadcast. And this is definitely the side of R.E.M. that thousands of mediocre campus coffee-house folk-rock bands have been trying to emulate for the last 30 years. R.E.M. unplugged means plenty of mandolin, accordion and hand drums. Not that these types of instrumental flourishes are uncommon to R.E.M.’s albums, or unwelcome, but their albums are usually more eclectic and varied. This is two entire albums of R.E.M. sounding like that. And the first disc is from right after Out Of Time came out and conquered the world, so it has a lot of the forgettable deep cuts that nobody actually likes from that album. But it does have “Perfect Circle” and “Swan Swan H” and a bunch of their ’80s hits, and a weird beatnik instrumental (“Rotary Eleven”). The second disc is from 2001, after drummer Bill Berry left the band for health reasons, and the band had been relying more on drum machines and studio musicians to fill in the gap. This concert was ostensibly promoting their album Reveal, which was a decent but non-canon later-era album whose songs are mostly skippable. The only song they reprise from the first session is, what else, “Losing My Religion”. They also play “Country Feedback”, which the band always stands by as their best song (and, to my ears, has aged way better than expected), which includes a muffled “fuck off” which I’m assuming had to have been bleeped by the censors when it was broadcast. And there’s also a few ace album cuts (“Cuyahoga”, “Find The River”, “Electrolite”), and just a few more ’80s hits (“The One I Love”, “So. Central Rain”). For some reason, though, the sound quality on the second disc is a little grainy, it actually sounds like it was taped off the TV, which is kind of lame. Overall, it’s good to have these recordings if you’re a fan, but it seems like there’s been a ridiculous amount of R.E.M. live albums, best-ofs and reissues as of late, so it just seems like more product being pumped out in lieu of the band’s breakup.

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