R.E.M. – Dead Letter Office

A B-sides compilation! Now, REM sure as sugar didn’t have a stockpile of loose songs lying around, so what did they do??? They had fun fun fun! Until, of course, daddy took their T-bird away, but that didn’t happen until they released “Green” a few years later.

What kind of fun? Since I asked, here be some drunken fuckery, such as a cover of “King of the Road” with valiantly trying to stay on key by yelling at each other and mangling the words horribly (“I’m a man of man by no means”?), a bunch of raucous covers (including Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic”) that are surprisingly rambunctious, two surf-rock instrumentals, a jazzy instrumental, a goofy rock song, a goofy country rocker, reading liner notes to some biblical thing over the music of “Seven Chinese Brothers”, and a couple early jangle-rockers that didn’t make the cut but are pretty lovely, especially “Ages of You”. Af this won’t mean much if you’re a mean man no fun, but to my hears it’s great to hear a serious band sounding like they’re enjoying making music. And these are B-sides, there really isn’t a need to take things as if they’d make your career.

And it’s more or less comprehensive! I like a band that respects their fans enough to give them what they want. And I’m not saying these songs are openly bad – they’re not, they’re just far sillier than usual from our poetface Ari M. Friends. Not that they’re songs either, gosh, they keep on covering the Velvet Underground here to no avail – guys, VU were great, but that doesn’t mean you can imitate Neko or speed up “Pale Blue Eyes” and make it worthwhile. But as a whole, this compilation shows off just how solid REM were here; this is effortless efficacy. The band can be intentionally stupid and it still sounds pretty good. “Ages of You” would be many an indie band’s greatest achievement, yet for 80s REM it’s a throwaway track that Peter Buck (in the endearing self-deprecating liner notes) casually mentions as a song they got “tired of” and stopped playing. La di da, but this album is a great musical garage sale.

Also, after all the relative cacophony and fuckery the band’s first EP, “Chronic Town” is included in its entirety. Again with the being nice to the fans! It’s five songs long and incomprehensible and jangly and catchy and the songs can mean whatever you want them to. I’m partial to “Gardening at Night”, a great metaphor for…something. Working a task generally undertaken during the day at night time? Contemplating one’s inner self while in a workplace? I don’t know, but it cuts to my heart, especially when the melody is stuck in my head and the guitars go round and round in the circle game. I hated that song the first time I heard it and I hate much more now that they played it at my mother’s funeral. “The Circle Game” that is. REM good. You listen now. You don’t even have to buy the albums first to enjoy this one, it’d be a wet dream for slacker accomplishment under newer, modern circumstances.

8/10

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