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May 27, 2014

Spotlight: R.E.M.

Courtesy of Rhino

Editors' Notes

The cover of R.E.M.'s latest release titled Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions (Rhino Records)

Courtesy of Rhino

Editors' Notes

R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, vocalist Michael Stipe, and guitarist Peter Buck.

In this media age dominated by reality television’s race to document made-for-TV-crew marriages, tales of survival, teenage vacuity, and pregnancies, scribes have noted that it can be hard to remember a time when MTV aired music. And yet, its “Unplugged” series almost makes up for the cultural wasteland fostered by “Laguna Beach” and its ilk. Albums culled from “Unplugged” performances by Nirvana, Neil Young, and 10,000 Maniacs have all become essentials for any collection of work by such artists as Kurt Cobain and Natalie Merchant. Only one band, R.E.M., appeared twice on the series, but audio for the two performances (one in 1991 and another in 2001) has never been made available. Now, on the heels of a sold-out four-LP vinyl set of the two performances, Rhino Records just released a two-disc set called R.E.M. Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions. The album includes understated standouts like this stripped down version of “Low” with drummer Bill Berry who left the band in 1997, that was recorded during R.E.M.’s 1991 “Unplugged” performance:



The Athens, Georgia band made up of Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Berry has its first commercial hit with the 1987 album Document and the 1991 “Unplugged” session included many songs from the band’s then-current  Out of Time album that included such tunes as “Low” and “Radio Song” as well as “Losing My Religion,” the album’s first single that was famously based around a mandolin riff by Buck. Two tracks from the band’s 1988 album Green were never aired on MTV and are included on this new release. The band’s second appearance on “Unplugged” (without Berry) focused on its 2001 album, Reveal, that includes “All the Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star),” and also “Find the River” from 1992’s Automatic For the People. This session includes a chilling version of “The One I Love” from 1985’s Document, a song that wasn’t included in the original “Unplugged” broadcast. In all, the compilation highlights the elegant improvisation in the band’s two live performances. There are certainly more beautiful bits hidden in the R.E.M. vaults, but this release is a great harbinger of things to come. If only it signaled the same for MTV.

By Elizabeth Varnell


Pictured: R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, vocalist Michael Stipe, and guitarist Peter Buck.
Courtesy of Rhino

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