R.E.M. – MTV Unplugged

It’s 1991! My, how the time has passed! Somewhere in an attic there’s a picture of me looking better and better!

This is a live album from ye olden days of 1991, just after the release of Out Of Time. But wait! There’s more! This is from the period of the 1990s where everyone from R.E.M. to Eric Clapton to Nirvana recorded ‘MTV Unplugged’ shows for no apparent reason; as if recording a bunch of your already-acoustic songs and a bunch of campfire singalongs is a sort of deliverance. Hey, maybe it is, I’ve never been in much of a band.

In any case, the live acoustic experience doesn’t seriously yanky my cranky, nor does it upset me too much; it fades into the background, except for that one genre-breaker that Nirvana did in early ’94. Here, drummer Berr Billy to reduced to bongo-boppin’, and the bass sounds like the strings that used to be strung into the hydro pole at Crawford and Harbord. Stipe and guitarist Buck sound solid (even if Stipe says ‘drink’ like ‘dreenk’ in “Half A World Away”) and there’s another guitarist (some Peter Holzapple character) and some keyboards set near to but not exactly ‘church organ’ and the band rips through a short set.

The songs are heavy on OOT material (5 songs), and they come off much like they do on the album (I’d forgotten about how nice a song “Half A World Away” is!), but they were mostly acoustic already, and “Losing My Religion” isn’t any better for being bongoed up. Then there’s one meh Elvis cover, and a song per album (or so) from their earlier period that are mostly made slightly worse for sounding like songs that I’d be really impressed if my drunken guitar-playing friends wrote and played at Hart House, but they didn’t, so I’m not. “Fall On Me and “It’s the End Blah Blah” are rock songs, consarnit! Get your unplugged instruments off of my lawn! “Disturbance At The Heron House” comes across super well, though. I don’t know what happened there.

It’s the last live album from R.E.M. that doesn’t sound like a greatest-hits collection, so that’s nice, but the acoustic nature isn’t really my thing. Still, it’s a bunch of good songs performed well. If a friend of mine actually busted out ANY of these songs around a fireplace I’d be muy floored.

7 / 10

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