Craft Recordings releases two re-mastered vinyls of an iconic alternative band.
R.E.M. – Around The Sun – Warner Brothers (2004)/Craft Recordings CR00549 (2023) 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 55:16 ****:
(Peter Buck – guitars, Mike Mills – bass guitar, keyboards; Michael Stipe – vocals; Scott McCaughey – guitar; Q-Tip – rap; Bill Rieflin – drums, percussion; Ken Stringfellow – keyboards)
R.E.M. started out as a college band from The University Of Georgia. Guitarist Peter Buck, drummer Bill Berry, bassist Mike Mills and vocalist Michael Stipe helped to pioneer the alternative rock genre. Their first single, “Radio Free Europe” (1981) created a buzz and led to their debut album, Murmur (1983). Over a thirty year span, R.E.M. released fifteen studio albums, including Green, Out Of Time and Automatic For The People. Craft Recordings has released two re-mastered vinyls of late-career albums. The first is Around The Sun, (2004), the initial album without original drummer Berry. This is a curiously scaled-back album. “Leaving New York” is a basic pop-rock track with Buck’s jangly, atmospheric guitar and Stipe’s sinewy vocals. There are sonic oddities like “Electron Blue” with an electronic pulse and simple instrumentation. In a funky shift, “The Outsiders” features rapper Q-Tip and a crisp electric guitar. R.E.M.’s musical style is varied and at times, deliberative on tracks like “Make It All Okay” (a Beach Boys-like pop arrangement), and pop-inspired “Final Straw” and “I Wanted To Be Wring” (folk-infused with great acoustic guitar).
“Wanderlust” has a loping finger-snapping tempo with atmospheric synthesizers, and “Boy In The Well” delivers a chorus that captures the fluid aesthetics of R.E.M. There is a slight energy uptick on “Aftermath”. This is new territory for this band. “High Speed Train” executes a droning, near atonal resonance. Perhaps the most appealing number on Around The Sun is the title track with its infectious coda and gossamer finish. It is difficult for an iconic band to consistently produce trend-setting albums over 20 years, but this one grows on you.
R.E.M. – Around The Sun
Side 1: Leaving New York; Electron Blue; The Outsiders
Side 2: Make It All Okay; Final Straw; I Wanted To Be Wrong
Side 3: Wanderlust; Boy In The Well; Aftermath
Side 4: High Speed Train; The Worst Joke Ever; The Ascent Of Man
R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now – Warner Brothers (2011)/Craft Recordings CR00551 (2023) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 41:05 ****1/2:
(Peter Buck – guitar, bass, mandolin; Mike Mills – bass, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals; Michael Stipe – lead vocals; Shemarr Allen – trumpet; Greg Hicks – trombone; Mark Mullins – trombone; Joel Gibb – vocals; Lenny Kaye – guitar; Jacknife Lee – keyboards, guitar; Leroy Jones – trumpet; Kirk M. Joseph, Sr. – sousaphone; Scott McCaughey – guitar, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals; Peaches – vocals; Bill Rieflin – drums, bouzouki, keyboards, guitar; Patti Smith – vocals; Eddie Vedder – vocals)
It seems that Collapse Into Now is a suitable finale for R.E.M. It feels more connected to their prior catalogue, with expanded instrumentation. The X-Axis kicks off with the muscular “Discoverer”. Buck’s crisp jagged lines drive the melody and Stipe’s vocals have urgency. Continuing the harder rock edge, “All The Best” is hard-charging and the denser sound is palpable. The quirky instrumental rhythm and hypnotic trademark R.E.M. skipping vibe (including halting vocals) are on full display. Stipe’s socio-political narratives imbue the waltz-time song (“Uberlin”), with well-placed accordion shading. Eddie Vedder contributes back up vocals to the quintessentially melodic “It Happened Today”. Mandolin touches by Buck and Mills’ shimmering chorus vocals elevate the number. If listeners are looking for the classic band aesthetics, “Every Day Is Yours To Win” provides layered sonic textures and dream-like fluidity.
Y-Axis keeps up the rocking feel with “Mine Smell Like Honey’. The number features crashing guitars and a hard-driving beat. “Walk It Back” is low-keyed with piano and vocal. There is a weary countenance to the lyrics and vocal delivery. In another unexpected shift, Stipe with an assist from guest vocalist Peaches rocks out and examines a humorous context (“Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter”). In under two minutes, “That Someone Is You” is hard charging with references to Scarface Al Pacino and Casino Sharon Stone”. In another “Hollywood” shout out, “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I” is airy, cryptic and melancholic with additional mandolin accents by Buck. The finale, (“Blue”) begins with stream-of-consciousness spoken word and vocal counterpoint by Stipe. Buck’s acid-tinged guitar creates a different texture. The addition of Patti Smith is a treat, if not understated. But the raw tonal quality is haunting.
These vinyl re-mastered “late career” vinyl updates of R.E.M. are a unique glimpse into this unconventional, charismatic band. The sound mx is balanced with excellent stereo separation. Both pressings have little surface noise and no hisses or pops.
R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now
X-Axis: Discoverer; All The Best; Uberlin; Oh My Heart; It Happened Today; Every Day Is Yours To Win
Y-Axis: Mine Smell Like Honey; Walk It Back; Alligator_Aviator_Autopiuot_Antimatter; That Someone Is You; Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I; Blue.
More information on both these releases through Craft Recordings