In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003



January 16th, 2005 | 32 replies

Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

The Band: Michael Stipe (Vocals)
Peter Buck (Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals)
Mike Mills (Keyboards, Bass Guitar)
Bill Berry (Drums)-on all songs up until 1997

Released: 2003 (Wea)

REM, although a staple of radio-friendly rock today, are often underrated by many new music fans who do not know their history, and their effect on a huge range of contemporary music. Their career has followed a dramatic path, with them rising from the alternative underground scene, on albums such as Murmur, and Chronic Town, into becoming possibly the biggest band in the world in the early 1990s, after the release of Out Of Time, and Automatic For The People. Since then their career has followed something of a downward path, with their music being generally accepted as having lost its edge, especially since drummer Bill Berry left the band following a brain aneurysm, and their most recent albums have been both relatively commercial and critical failures. This greatest hits package certainly shows though, that no matter what your opinions of the band may be, even in just their relatively popular days (ever since the release of Green) the band have developed a formidable back catalogue.

However, this album only takes on the most recent 15 years of their career, ending with the release of the new songs Bad Day, and Animal, which can only be found on this compilation, as they have never been released on an album, and were not contained on this year’s release of Around The Sun. Obviously this means that anyone wishing to get into the earlier periods of REM’s career, which are still perceived by many to be their best, will have to buy some previous albums, although even from their more popular phase, some of their best known songs, such as “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”, and “The One I Love”, are not contained on the standard CD. While this therefore doesn’t represent REM as a band throughout their career though, something that it definitely does do is show quite what they have done for the last 15 years.

This is done by a wide ranging song selection, with 7 albums, 2 film soundtracks, and, of course, the new songs being represented. Quite clearly the band isn’t trying to hide anything that they've recorded, and there seems to have been a genuine attempt made to be diverse. Although there is the odd confusing sidenote as a result of this (only one song from Out Of Time"), the tracklisting is, by and large, a good one. As is to be expected, global hit Automatic For The People dominates, with 4 songs on here, although it's hard to argue with any of the songs on here, or to say that some of them should definitely have been left off the album.

There also can't be any dispute about either the quantity of material available here, or the quality of the new songs. At over 75 minutes in length, the band would have been hard pushed to find another song short enough, and deserving to be put on here, so as a hits package, and a way of introducing people to recent REM, this definitely acts as a comprehensive taster. As for both Bad Day, and Animal, what's startling about them is how fresh they both sound, particularly compared to the songs on the group's latest album. Bad Day in particular is the most out and out rock song that the group has recorded for a while, with the outpouring of vocals sounding similar to something they would have recorded earlier in their career; something that may be due to the fact that the song had apparently been written in the 1980s, but shelved until recently. It's definitely not a filler song though, although it may sound as if it should be. Animal is a woozier peace of music that's built around syncopated drums, and distorted instruments, with a chorus that fits perfectly with REM's continued role as stadium fillers.

So, in addition to the overall consistency of the band, what else stands out" Well, while it's true to say that the band aren't, and have never pretended to be virtuosos at their instruments, something that is notable is the cohesion of their music. I wouldn't go so far as to call it formulaic, but it's undeniable that this is a band that is used to working together, and have a broad sense of what works, and what doesn't. While this should be the case after two decades of working and recording together, with many groups they start imploding after this amount of time, and although the working relations within REM are different from many bands, with the band members not really speaking as often as they used to, there's never really been any hint of massive friction within the band. What does stand out the most though is REM's not so secret weapon: the voice of Michael Stipe. Although Stipe is an unlikely rock icon, as he's lacking in the sense of danger and intrigue that many icons have, he was recently voted the 24th biggest musical icon of modern times by Q music magazine's readers, coming in two places behind a similar artist in Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

Stipe has certainly become a mentor to many artists, including Yorke, but it's his vocal performances and lyrics that have made him such an icon. His lyrics on REM's albums have varied from striking chords with teenagers (listen to Automatic For The People, and you will realise that it is one of the great teenage records to listen to), and the intensely political (Document,). While these have made him a celebrated figure, he would, of course, be nothing without his voice, and this compilation showcases it. From the brooding, melancholy figure, that is uncannily similar to Bob Dylan, which he is on E-Bow The Letter, to the teenage icon that he is on Everybody Hurts, to the revolutionary figure he presents himself as onOrange Crush, we see the full range of Stipe, but we also see the consistency of his voice, and the fact that he can adopt many personas.

In summary, as a hits compilation, this more than does its job. Whether you buy this as a way of getting into one of the most important, and at times one of the best alternative rock bands of recent times, or whether you buy it to listen to some of the best moments of the band, you are unlikely to regret it. Although you can't help but wondering whether the band's best days are behind them now (listening to Around The Sun, it's hard to think of many songs that would make it onto here), REM have made consistently good music for a long time now, and this is very well reflected on this album. While the departure of Bill Berry may eventually be looked back on as the definitive turning point in REM's career, for the time being, they remain one of the biggest bands in the world, as they're even playing London's Hyde Park this summer, and with a back catalogue including these songs (remember, they have a lot of very good material not on here), it isn't hard to see why.

Recommended Downloads
Nightswimming. From the opening string intro, to the final piano chords, this is a beautiful song. It was recorded in surreal circumstances, with Mike Mills playing the piano part to Stipe, Michael Stipe asking to hear it again, and then just singing the lyrics over the top of the music. This might account for why the vocals, even by Stipe's standards sound incredibly raw, but this is undoubtedly one of REM's greatest songs, and the fact that it contains a string section throughout makes it even stronger.

Everybody Hurts. Still their most well known song, the band have said in the past that the song no longer belongs to them, but to anyone that has ever got anything out of it. If that's the case, then there are a lot of owners of this song, as, although the lyrics could be seen as clichéd, it's struck a chord with people the world over, although it's another song aimed at teenagers. You almost certainly will have heard this before, but if you don't own it, then you should do.

E-Bow The Letter. Featuring Stipe at his darkest, this is more of a moody folk song than anything else, with the lyrics, such as:
I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
Hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiara
Dreaming of maria callas
Whoever she is
This fame thing, I don’t get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
This star thing, I don’t get it
being a dark reflection on fame, something that is heightened by the presence of Patti Smith on this song. The song itself is as cynically musing as the lyrics would suggest, with it basically being Stipe speaking/singing over music that is very firmly in the background. This was by far and away the best moment of New Adventures In Hi-Fi, and remains one of the best on here.

Final Rating: 4.2/5.

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user ratings (168)

Comments:Add a Comment 
November 30th 2004


not only a good band, but a great album
great review bartender, you never fail to amaze.

The Ashtray Girl
November 30th 2004


You mean Medopalis?

But yes, yay for the REM love! I think they're one of those bands that get lumped in with a lot of other rock dinosaurs without anyone ever really remembering how great their music was in its own right.

November 30th 2004


Much as I appreciate the comparison, I'm not Bartender...thanks though.

Adam Jones is GOD
November 30th 2004


This one hadnt been done? dammit, i would have loved to review it

But since jonny did it, I dont care. I fully agree with the 5/5 rating, i can listen to this over and over in any order. They really did pick a good mixture of songs for it, and not a 'Shiny Happy People' in sight.

Good insight review too, better than just re reveiwing each song, you gave a good statement about the band

(/finally reps you, dont know why I hadnt yet)

December 1st 2004


Yeah...I think I'm going to stick with doing track by track for albums full of original material, and this style for compilations, or something like that now. That just seems to work better to me.

Dark Hero
December 1st 2004


R.E.M. stands for Rapid Eye Movement just so everyone knows.

Great review :thumb: I'm going to get this, it's at my used CD store for very cheap.

Distorted Vision
December 1st 2004


Nice review, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said although they don't release consistently good albums, their best songs truly are great.

Still, I know everyone knows it, but how can you not recommend Losing My Religion, nor even mention it? In my opinion, it is one of the greatest songs, ever.

Oh yeah, are you sure Man On The Moon wasn't on the Man On The Moon Soundtrack?

December 1st 2004


[QUOTE=Distorted Vision]Nice review, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said although they don't release consistently good albums, their best songs truly are great.

Still, I know everyone knows it, but how can you not recommend Losing My Religion, nor even mention it? In my opinion, it is one of the greatest songs, ever.

Oh yeah, are you sure Man On The Moon wasn't on the Man On The Moon Soundtrack? [/QUOTE]

meh...I've never really seen the big deal about Losing My Religion. Sure, it's a good song, but I don't think it's anywhere near one of their best, although I know I'm in the minority there. And I'm not sure if Man On The Moon was on the Man On The Moon OST (although I suspect it was). I know it's on Automatic For The People, so that's what I credited it to. Basically, any songs that I wasn't sure what album they were on, I googled to see which one they were on, so I pretty much instinctively just credited Man On The Moon to Automatic For The People.

March 14th 2005


Album Rating: 3.5

Great review as always Med. Good, fairly comprehensive album. I'm not extremely well-versed in REM's material, I still have much to absorb, but this seems to cover the basic points of their more mainstream career. Recommended for people looking to get into REM, or just to add some material from one of alternative music's most successful and most important bands to their collection (as you mentioned).

5/5, why not.

March 15th 2005


Good review. Best songs: Bad Day, Nightswimming, Man On The Moon, Imitation of Life

April 4th 2005


rock on!
REM's one of the most underrated bands out there

July 11th 2005


Good review. This was the first R.E.M. album I got, and although I've heard a good number of songs before, there's not a single track on here that didn't impress me upon first listening to it. I was wondering why "It's the end of the world..." wasn't on here, and apparently there's already a best of for their pre-1988 albums titled "eponymous", which that would fit under.

October 5th 2005


I am never anything but disappointed with REM, I find all the instrumental work terribly bland and lifeless and Michael Stipe annoys me a great deal, he has no feel at all for putting words to songs. Losing My Religion is ruined by his inane lyrics and melody.
Very overrated band in every respect

Two-Headed Boy
October 30th 2005


Album Rating: 3.5



December 24th 2005


Album Rating: 4.0

Well written review. REM is a very unique band, they should get more credit for their work. A good album, pleased i brought it.

February 3rd 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

Great review Med57, but my ultimate track to download from this album would have to be At My Most Beautiful, there's just something about the quiet backing vocals in the chorus-type part lol, dunno if you could call it a chorus, that really go for me... and I love the piano! Which also makes Nightswimming appear high up on my list. Imitation of Life, Daysleep and What's The Frequency, Kenneth? would have to be my favourites after those two... but in no particular order of course!!! But a round of applause is deserved for that excellent review-can you picture me giving you a thumbs up????

January 7th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

This is great because it cuts out tunes like 'Shiny Happy People' that you'd expect to find on a compilation album and focuses on the 'A' material. Where was 'The One I Love' though?

Best song here: 'Imitation Of Life', for that feel-good chorus and brilliantly piercing middle-eight

January 7th 2007


The tracklist looks like a decent compilation but how the hell did The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite make it on? The absence of Shiny Happy People also makes me sad

January 7th 2007


I don't like that song^.
I do however really enjoy Losing My Religion. And lately Man On The Moon is beiong played a lot on my computer. Those are the only three songs I have heard. I might get this.

March 8th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

This is a great compilation, first & so far only R.E.M album I have.

I heard Orange Crush & immediatly wanted some R.E.M, when I listened to it, I

realized that this band were behind some of the tracks I heard years ago & loved

(Losing My Religion, Everybody Hurts & Daysleeper, not knowing who made them all

those years ago)

This album is a joy to listen to from start to finish

Best Tracks:

Losing My Religion

Orange Crush

Man On The Moon

Everybody Hurts


Imitation Of Life

What's The Freqency, Kenneth?This Message Edited On 03.08.08

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