R.E.M. has released their final album, a compilation that for the first time covers their five albums with I.R.S. as well as the 10 they recorded for Warner. Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011 also includes the obligatory new tracks (three, in this case) to lure completionists into buying the double disc set — a tactic that worked better before the ascendancy of digital music. Now an R.E.M. fan can just buy the bonus tracks separately. Record executives somewhere are shaking their fists over that.
Here’s the total list of tracks via Wikipedia. As one would expect of a retrospective, it covers the band’s entire career and includes all of the singles/hits along the way. It’s also clear — since the band chose the tracks themselves — that they have a few personal favorites (Automatic for the People gets four tracks).
They picked 40 songs so I’m going to do the same and pick my favorite 40 songs and see how our lists compare. Like R.E.M., I’ll pick at least one track from every non-compilation album, including the Chronic Town EP released in 1981 (30 years ago, egad).
- Stumble (Chronic Town)
- Sitting Still (Murmur)
- Catapult (Murmur)
- Pilgrimage (Murmur)
- 7 Chinese Bros. (Reckoning)
- So. Central Rain (Reckoning)
- (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville (Reckoning)
- Pretty Persuasion (Reckoning)
- Feeling Gravity’s Pull (Fables of the Reconstruction)
- Maps and Legends (Fables of the Reconstruction)
- Begin the Begin (Lifes Rich Pageant)
- These Days (Lifes Rich Pageant)
- Fall on Me (Lifes Rich Pageant)
- Cuyahoga (Lifes Rich Pageant)
- The Flowers of Guatemala (Lifes Rich Pageant)
- Finest Worksong (Document)
- Exhuming McCarthy (Document)
- It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) (Document)
- World Leader Pretend (Green)
- Orange Crush (Green)
- Losing My Religion (Out of Time)
- Texarcana (Out of Time)
- Nightswimming (Automatic for the People)
- Find the River (Automatic for the People)
- Crush With Eyeliner (Monster)
- Bang and Blame (Monster)
- New Test Leper (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
- Bittersweet Me (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
- Electrolite (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
- Suspicion (Up)
- At My Most Beautiful (Up)
- Daysleeper (Up)
- Imitation of Life (Reveal)
- Leaving New York (Around the Sun)
- Man-Sized Wreath (Accelerate)
- Supernatural Superserious (Accelerate)
- Discoverer (Collapse Into Now)
- Uberlin (Collapse Into Now)
- Oh My Heart (Collapse Into Now)
- It Happened Today (Collapse Into Now)
My original list had too many songs (five from Lifes Rich Pageant alone) so I culled a few to get down to 40. I found it especially difficult to pick only a handful of favorites from Murmur, Reckoning and Lifes Rich Pageant — each of these albums are remarkably lean, each song equally worthy of inclusion. A big surprise was finding four songs from Collapse Into Now. Although it sounds drastically different than something like Murmur recorded 28 years earlier, it’s perhaps R.E.M.’s most thoughtful and mature work, but free of the pretension and torpor that afflicted lesser efforts like Around the Sun. It is, in other words, one of their best albums.
Comparing R.E.M.’s list to mine, we overlap on 18 songs, roughly half and we both matched on at least one song from every album. And looking over the official listing I see they included “Bad Day” from the In Time compilation album. Cheaters. It’s a worthy song, though, so I could probably find some song to punt in order to squeeze it in.
Notably absent from my list are some prominent hits like “Stand”, “Shiny Happy People” and “Everybody Hurts”. I’m not one of those who hates R.E.M.’s silly songs nor grinds my teeth at their ballads but I felt in each case there were other songs on each album that resonated more for me (even if they were ultimately overplayed, like “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”, the song that was my R.E.M. gateway drug).
And now a bonus list, my picks for R.E.M.’s best five albums (they released 15):
- Lifes Rich Pageant
- Automatic for the People
- Collapse Into Now
It’s fashionable to think of Automatic as overrated and over-serious but I still appreciate that the band produced a richly dark meditation on mortality that expanded their musical palette with confidence (and was more successful than the various experiments of Out of Time). The simple beauty of “Nightswimming” and “Find the River” lift the album significantly.
The worst album? That would have to be Around the Sun. It’s perhaps the most personal album, nearly all of the songs centering around relationships, but the pacing and energy of the songs never picks up. It’s the musical equivalent of a car stuck in second gear. Even the allegedly peppy songs like “Wanderlust” never generate much heat. The musicianship and vocals are fine throughout but they are in service to songs that are ultimately dull (“Leaving New York” is a solid opener, though). While Up and Reveal also had their share of so-so songs, neither album falls into the slumber of Around the Sun.