It’s already three years since Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe officially announced the end of R.E.M. as a band (after a 30-year run as a recording unit and 14 years after drummer Bill Berry had left the group) but yet, it doesn’t feel like they’ve ceased to exist at all. We’ve seen the 25th anniversary releases of Document and Green; Peter Buck’s two solo albums and the sanctioned issuing of the band’s performances on MTV’s “Unplugged” as a 2-disc set. And there is still more to come.
For the moment, MTV, in conjunction with Rhino, have now culled their archives to deliver R.E.M. By MTV, a six DVD collection, which includes most of R.E.M.’s appearances on MTV and MTV-aligned programs (at this point in time, shows owned by Viacom/CBS, such as the band’s appearance on “The Colbert Report” and Nickelodeon’s “Livewire”, are part of the package). There are 6 live concerts, VMA appearances – both in the United States and Europe – and “classic” programs such as “I.R.S.’s The Cutting Edge” and the original “Unplugged” from 1991.
For me, most rewarding is the documentary made specifically for this set, also called “R.E.M. By MTV”. In watching it, I felt incredibly nostalgic and at moments, a bit emotional. It was, in many ways, like seeing my own youth being played in a musical travelogue via R.E.M.’s music. I first got wind of R.E.M. in August, 1982 in Musician magazine – the “Faces” section had a blurb about this band whose sound was a cross between the “4/4 hydraulic pump of Pylon and the steely vocals of Allan Clarke”. A few days later, I’d heard something on the local college radio station that sounded like what had been described and sure enough, it was “Wolves, Lower” (I then immediately ran out and bought Chronic Town) – thus, forging a connection with this band that I don’t think I could ever really let go of. Having said that, the documentary is entertaining, interesting and taken on its own, is worth the price of purchase.
While it’s great to see some of the highlights – such as their Murmur-era appearance on “Livewire” and the two “Cutting Edge” segments, there is a bit of excess, by way of the live shows. I mean, really – 10 versions of “Losing My Religion”? 10 of “Man On The Moon”? I know this is trying to be thorough – and I appreciate that – but it’s enough to make you start hating these songs! I do think, however, the most intriguing of the live shows would be the “R.E.M. In Athens, Greece”, simply because it’s from the last tour the band ever undertook (in the post-Bill Berry era). So there are points for the historic significance of including this.
All in all, it’s really for collectors; die-hard fans of R.E.M., such as myself. 6 discs at 14-plus hours is a lot to take in and try to work through. But you’ll want to have it in your collection. And make room for the next boxset – the I.R.S.-years singles collection.
Yes, R.E.M. have split but there will always be a little bit they can give us – and we can, in turn, pass on to the next generations. To see how it was done correctly…
R.E.M. By MTV is available now