R.E.M. Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions (Rhino) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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R.E.M.

Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions

Rhino

Jul 10, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


There was a time in the early '90s when R.E.M. could confidently call itself the biggest band in the world. The run of Out of Time and Automatic for the People shifted units by the bucket load, while Michael Stipe was the unwavering voice of the ordinary man; a Bono without the complications of actually being Bono.

Fast forward a decade and the commercial rot had set in. The awkward album trio that followed (Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Up) fared poorly with the Athens, Georgia band's more populous fan base. And, by then, the music industry roulette wheel had also taken a spin, with the axis shifting towards more fleeting propositions that could thrive in the age of rampant, unapologetic piracy.

This MTV Unplugged double album documents both pivots in R.E.M.'s story. Record one finds the band on the up, just as Out of Timeand more particularly, "Losing My Religion"-was landing on coffee tables across the globe. Record number two bears the wounds of a band struggling to come to terms with its position as impotent mainstream mainstays.

Of course, latter years' R.E.M. has more of a story to tell. While the fresh-eyed buck of 1991 is gearing up for its prime years, it's the stubbled jawline and weary heart of the 2001 vintage that's seen it, done it, and encouraged half the globe to buy the T-shirts. And, for R.E.M. fans, that's likely to serve the most intrigue.

That's not to say the opening act is a dud. Stone-cold classics such as "It's the End of the World as We Know It," "Losing My Religion," and "Radio Song" are reminders of a band in its pomp. But there's a weakness to the likes of "Perfect Circle" and "Belong"a lack of confidence, perhaps, in Stipe's croonthat suggests these were songs unprepared for an acoustic platform, never mind a global one.

The record's second half is innately more assured. Growing into their roles as ageing ambassadors, the band explores the nuanced beauty of "Electrolite" with a mastery way beyond the original recording. Likewise, "Country Feedback" is tenderly sculpted, with Stipe's mournful vocalwithered by the years of on the road toilfurrowing through the delicate layers of country guitar.

In truth, this R.E.M. record is unessential. For many, this collection simply underlines the breadth of the band's output and the endurance of that work in an intimate setting. But as the product of two distinct decades, this is a snapshot of a band riding the wave then watching as the tide rolls away again. Somewhere in between they were the biggest band in the world. (www.remhq.com)

Author rating: 6.5/10

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