On its surface a disappointing cash grab from a former label, this release actually represents a sad story that represents a sad romantic relationship.
in 1980, R.E.M. were nobody. Reagan was just elected, the guys were 20 and considering dropping out of college, and nobody believed in them. So they self-released an EP, Chronic Town, and got some attention. But they were still poor. So, a smallish Southern label, IRS, took a chance on them. A big chance. IRS thought they weren’t like other bands, that they were special. And they were right.
They signed them for five albums – five fucking albums! The first one won best record from Rolling Stone. They were poor, but they were brilliant, and they belonged to IRS for five whole albums.
Those five albums were all great. Then their contact was up, and they jumped to a major label. The union was over. IRS, which had once been the ones to stand by R.E.M. were now just the past. R.E.M. had cleaned themselves up, made it rich, and moved on to bigger things. So what’s an indie label to do?
If you guessed “release what they had over and over in hopes of making a few extra bucks for crack” you’d be right, except for maybe the crack part and the part where I imagine their executives desperately hoping for them to fail. So the albums come – the singles compilation, the b-sides compilation (reviewed next), the next best-of, the emptying of the vaults. This is a collection of their ten IRS singles and their B-sides. Simple, schmimple.
It’s hard to hate this release, even if all the single “radio edit”s are just cutbacks on verse length (R.E.M. were a bit fan of Rule 62, that if one verse must be longer than the last it must be the first verse) that only detract from their songyness, and the only B-sides not available on Dead Letter Office are a couple live versions (“Catapult” sounds blah! “Maps and Legends” sounds great!), and one live crazy pretty medley of “Time After Time” (Stephen Malkmus’s LEAST FAVOURITE SONG from their early period) that’s worth keeping in your head-box.
So now IRS is destitute and lives off of their memory of R.E.M., and R.E.M. live on happily. It wouldn’t seem fair, aside from the lack of regard given to poor record reviewers who have to keep listening to the same damned songs over and over again.
7 / 10