R.E.M. – Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions

Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions (2014)

B+

1. Half A World Away 2. Disturbance At The Heron House 3. Radio Song 4. Low 5. Perfect Circle 6. Fall On Me 7. Belong 8. Love Is All Around 9. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) 10. Losing My Religion 11. Pop Song 89 12. Endgame 13. Fretless 14. Swan Swan H 15. Rotary 11 16. Get Up 17. World Leader Pretend 18. All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star) 19. Electrolite 20. At My Most Beautiful 21. Daysleeper 22. So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry) 23. Losing My Religion 24. Country Feedback 25. Cuyahoga 26. Imitation Of Life 27. Find The River 28. The One I Love 29. Disappear 30. Beat A Drum 31. I’ve Been High 32. I’ll Take The Rain 33. Sad Professor

 

Are REM the only band to do MTV Unplugged twice? Whores. I bet Mike Mills is one missed car payment away from joining the cast of the next season of The Real World. That son of a bitch.

Whatever the case may be, this two-disc collection gathers every song REM played across two performances, ten years apart, on the aforementioned television program, which today’s youth know as either “that thing that Nirvana did that one time” or “what the fuck is MTV Unplugged”? The 33-song tracklist also includes all the songs that they played but didn’t get broadcast. This, blessedly, means that we finally get to hear what the clamoring masses have desired for decades: acoustic versions of a bunch of Reveal songs. Whoopee!

So obviously, the ’91 set is of much greater interest, both musically and historically. The band had just put out Out Of Time, to the apparent delight of record buyers everywhere, and “Losing My Religion” was already putting America deep in the throes of something that centuries of folk traditional had failed to instill: mandolin fever (well, I guess “Maggie May” came about 20 years earlier, but fuck Rod Stewart). However, they declined to tour behind the record, so their performance on Unplugged served as the only opportunity for fans to see REM in action at what was then the apex of their popularity (which they exceeded only with Automatic For The People the following year). So REM gave the people wanted: pretty much all the key songs from Out Of Time and Green, and a wholehearted embrace of their status as a yuppie bubblegum folk band for the 90s. You know, the kind of band that lets Mike Mills sing a cover of the Troggs’ cottony 1967 hit “Love Is All Around” and garners an audience reaction consisting entirely of irrepressibly polite clapping at the beginning of every song (although they do seem to get really excited when “World Leader Pretend” starts up, for some inexplicable reason).

The good news is that, stripped of their pillowy production and cutesy arrangements—sideman Peter Holsapple plays some organ but otherwise it’s just acoustic guitar, bass, and Bill Berry tap tap tapping along on the congas—the Out Of Time songs are much less closer to cloying than their studio versions. Hell, even this KRS One-less version of the previously insufferable “Radio Song” is kinda nice. The other effect of the aptly unplugged setting is that there’s a greater focus on Stipe’s voice, which may not inspire everyone to jump for joy but certainly works for me. It’s especially interesting for the precious few older nuggets they do play – did you know “Perfect Circle” actually has lyrics, for instance? And goddamn, this version of “Fall On Me” is just stunning, even better than the studio version. Then again, the clarity of Stipe’s vocals forces you to confront the lyrics of the fantastic “Losing My Religion” B-side “Fretless” – namely the line “They come and they come and they come and they come/I accept it with a gentle tongue.” Thank you, Michael Stipe, for implanting an image of you performing oral sex into my brain.

Moving on, the ’01 set isn’t bad or anything. It sounds great, and I give the band credit for only repeating one song from the ’91 gig (“Losing My Religion,” natch) but they just play too many shitty post-Berry songs. That includes four goddamn Reveal songs all in a row at the end of the set, culminating in “I’ll Take The Rain,” which I FUCKING HATE SO FUCKING MUCH. BARF. I can’t decide which are worse, the album versions, which all the studio horse slop piled on top, or these mind-numbingly dull versions, which are forced to derive interest out of their melodies despite not possessing any. Fortunately, there’s a six-song run of older songs in the middle there (interrupted only by a perfunctory “Imitation Of Life”) that’s pretty sweet. I especially love the stately piano-based renditions of “So. Central Rain” and “The One I Love,” which once and for all emphasizes how beaten down and dejected Stipe’s character in that song is. Maybe if everybody heard this version people would stop using the song for their first wedding dance. I wouldn’t count on it through. People are dumb.



One Comment

  1. victoid wrote:

    Just about every band sounds better unplugged (Maybe not U2). Like Robert Johnson or Bill Monroe.
    Most producers make hits not art.
    “Fall On Me”? I prefer “Fall On You”, speshly for the guitar solo, even if it is fully plugged in.


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