R.E.M. – Live

Live (2007)

C+

1. I Took Your Name 2. So Fast, So Numb 3. Boy In The Well 4. Cuyahoga 5. Everybody Hurts 6. Electron Blue 7. Bad Day 8. The Ascent Of Man 9. The Great Beyond 10. Leaving New York 11. Orange Crush 12. I Wanted To Be Wrong 13. Final Straw 14. Imitation Of Life 15. The One I Love 16. Walk Unafraid 17. Losing My Religion 18. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? 19. Drive 20. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville 21. I’m Gonna DJ 22. Man On The Moon

 

A baffling live album that intentionally highlights my least favorite aspects of REM – those being the arena rock whoredom of Monster and the terrible songs of Around The Sun. Seriously, how is it that they managed to hold off on doing a live record for 25 years (New Adventures doesn’t count) and then decided to release one from the tour that accompanied their worst album ever? I mean, they play twice as many songs from Around The Sun (Six! Fuck!) as they play from the entirety of their IRS catalog (“The One I Love” is perfunctory and hardly counts as a lost gem, Stipe lets Mills sing “Rockville” so it’s not exactly able to reach its full potential, and “Cuyahoga” sounds great but is followed immediately by a near 7-minute rendition of “Everybody Hurts”). What the fuck is that? I don’t know how they could’ve given a clearer indication that they had completely lost the plot by this point.

You can probably guess how this record goes. They trot out all the big hits that you’ve been just dying to hear with crowd noise all these years, and they use auxiliary guitar and keyboards (mostly by the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey, who’s been playing with the band since as far back as the early 90’s and must certainly be considered a good influence) so the songs don’t—heaven forbid—differ too greatly from their studio versions. But why did they have to make such poor song selections? All the crap in the middle makes songs that could not previously have been considered anything but mediocre seem brilliant (“I Took Your Name,” “Imitation Of Life”), and the good songs mostly sound sloppy and half-assed, like the band members were too busy smiling and waving to the scores of adoring fans in the audience to play worth a shit. In fact the sole revelation on this whole thing is the revamped version of Up’s “Walk Unafraid,” which brings the song’s impressive drive into focus from the comparatively hesitant studio version and becomes a focal point of this record.

You don’t need to hear this thing, especially when Live At The Olympia, released a mere 2 years after this one, is about 500 times better in just about every respect imaginable. Stipe’s voice is starting to sound like he needs to lay off the cigarettes, and he doesn’t offer much in terms of stage patter – his stone-faced proclamation that “This is our State of the Union address” before they play “I Wanted To Be Wrong” and “Final Straw” only serves to highlight how turgid and ineffective those songs were/are as political statements. In the end, Live is a collection of some great and some not-so-great REM songs played with varying levels of competency… you—and the band—can do better.



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