R.E.M. – Dead Letter Office

Dead Letter Office (1987)

B-

1. Crazy 2. There She Goes Again 3. Burning Down 4. Voice Of Harold 5. Burning Hell 6. White Tornado 7. Toys In The Attic 8. Windout 9. Ages Of You 10. Pale Blue Eyes 11. Rotary Ten 12. Bandwagon 13. Femme Fatale 14. Walters Theme 15. King Of The Road 16. Wolves, Lower 17. Gardening At Night 18. Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars) 19. 1,000,000 20. Stumble 21. Gardening At Night (Acoustic) 22. All The Right Friends

 

A very haphazard odds and ends collection released before the Big Leap of Document, Dead Letter Office serves as a depository of completely WTF covers, goofy genre-toying toss off B-sides and horrible off-key vocals. What it lacks in quality it makes up for in sheer entertainment value, that’s for sure… where else are you gonna hear a band like REM cover freaking Aerosmith?? Seriously, they do “Toys In The Attic” and Peter even plays an actual guitar solo! It’s hilarious!

To say the majority off this material sounds “off the cuff” would be a massive understatement. The only truly serious and fleshed out song on here is the terrific cover of “Crazy,” originally by fellow Athenians of a similar era Pylon (it also sounds suspiciously like an “early REM” original. Must’ve be something in the water down there in Athens… or, more likely, the whiskey they drank at frat parties). Almost everything else is something of a joke. Like the version of “7 Chinese Bros.” titled “Voice Of Harold” where Stipe reads the words off an old gospel record in place of the real lyrics. It’s funny, and actually stands as an important part of REM lore – it was an exercise proposed by Reckoning producer Don Dixon in an attempt to get Stipe to sing audibly. There’s also a cover of “King Of The Road” dominated by a thoughtless Stipe vocal, incessant studio chatter, and Mike Mills yelling out the chord changes during the first part of the song. Few bands would consider it of releasable quality, and is included here probably because, well, it’s REM doing “King Of The Road.” And, you know what? That’s good enough for me. Most of the originals are goofs too, and a couple are both funny and catchy, like the cock rock parody “Burning Hell” and the cute country pastiche “Bandwagon,” which features the phrase “yes siree Bob” in the lyrics. Good stuff.

They also do three pussified Velvet Underground covers. “There She Goes Again” is nice and zippy, but holy shit, “Femme Fatale” features the most hideous Stipe vocal of all time. Is there even one right note in there? Almost makes me long for Nico’s Nazi accent. Mostly everything else are either energetic holdovers from the band’s party circuit days or boring instrumentals. Lots of fun, but absolutely nothing essential, besides maybe “Crazy.”

Oh, but you kind of have to pick this up anyway, since for the 1993 reissue they tacked on all of Chronic Town at the end, making it the only place you can find it on non-vinyl mediums, plus a gorgeous acoustic rendition of “Gardening At Night,” which you should listen to despite the fact that Stipe completely forgets what the melody is supposed to be for the first few seconds. But that will hardly surprise you after hearing the rest of this record.



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