A band-sanctioned and band-compiled early days greatest hits compilation in honour of that time they were going to change record labels and knew their old label was going to release a compilation anyway and they decided they might as well release a compilation themselves before their old record label released a compilation that wasn’t band-sanctioned and band-compiled.
Zees compilation is set apart from other greatest hits compilations, primarily because a full third of its tracks aren’t available in the forms present here because the versions that are on other albums are slightly different from the ones here and one is from a film soundtrack but wasn’t on an album until it was on this album.
The “new” tracks are as follows:
1. “Radio Free Europe” in its original form – sped up and more rocked out than it appears on “Murmur” and therefore way the heck gosh better. I have no idea why they slowed it down later on, but golly is this ever superior.
2. “Gardening at Night” with a “different vocal mix” that makes the vocals a tad less incomprehensible, though not a minim more understandable. Again, an improvement, because who doesn’t like a nice cool glass of cleaner vocals in the morning?
3. The non-album track “Romance”, which is generally a disappointment and least greatest hitsy song on here. It lacks the easy hooks that made early R.E.M. such a winner.
4. “Finest Worksong (Mutual Horn Drum Mix)”, which is almost exactly the same “Finest Worksong” but with a drum count-in and some unnecessary horns tootin’ around trying to make the sound more dramatic and not succeeding.
Allsy in allsy there’s two songs here from the long long ago, one from Murmur, two from Reckoning, two from Fables, a pithy one from Life’s Rich Pageant, and three from Doc, You Meant. Not the layout I would have preferred (I would have for one included more from LRP) but it’s a definite winner, even if you’re sick to shit of “The One I Love”. They couldn’t very well leave it off, lest the label take charge and include all those Rihanna covers to boost sales.
R.E.M., when I was a kid, was the rare band (CCR being the other) that my mother and I could enjoy together. But not this R.E.M.. That R.E.M. started right after the period that ended with this compilation. Before this, and on here, R.E.M. were a subversive, oftentimes unserious young person band. And it was good. Plus, I find it a bit touching to listen to an honest goodbye; they were leaving one period of their lives and moving on to the next and they knew it, and you can feel their knowledge of the scary, 30-something world awaiting them. It’s a classic artist’s arc, and here is the fulcrum of the meaningful part of their career. Here is the point where they truly left behind childhood and became wide-eyed adults strumming mandolins because they were artists, damnit, and there’s little time for fun and we go to bed at midnight sharp. But not here, not yet. These are the most-loved musical photographs, and just this once when they say that it’s the end of the world as we know it (and a pox on you if you’re tired of that song) it means the end of their world as they knew it, and any listener could be forgiven for thinking themselves, as Hunter put it, a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger. There’s a lot more to be found on the albums themselves, but maybe you just really wanted the best version of “Radio Free Europe”. Your memories sound delicious, R.E.M.mies.