REM, their early sound at its peak

REM, their early sound at its peak

Brief summary: i REM were formed in Athens (Georgia) in 1980, their debut album dates back to 1982 thanks to the EP “Chronic town” (read the review here), the first album was released in 1983 “Murmur”. On April 9, 1984, 40 years ago, the American band released work number two on the market, “Reckoning”. It is the album that confirms the group as a valuable reality of independent rock music. On the anniversary of its publication we propose you to read our review of the deluxe edition of the album released in 2009.

Is there any concern when a band starts releasing too many reissues and live records? Maybe yes. But also not, given that this is the general trend of discography in recent years: filling the increasingly long temporal “gaps” between one album and another with “secondary” publications. On paper, REMne have a few too many of these “secondary” releases. “Reckoning” is the second reissue in about 6 months, after that of “Murmur”. Then there are two live albums (the one from November 2007 which anticipated “Accelerate” and the digital-only one for iTunes in 2008).

Another one will arrive in October, taken from the Dublin concerts of 2007, which will be preceded by a digital EP with 4 songs from those concerts, but originally recorded for “Reckoning”. As a fan you can't help but be happy (even if these reprints, due to the difference in rights ownership between America and Europe, are only available as imports). From casual listeners one might think badly. Let's wait for the “Live at the Olympia” in October before judging, because that will be the real publication to focus on.

The rest is completionist stuff. But if I had to recommend another publication of the deck, I would choose this one. For two reasons: “Reckoning”, the group's second album from 1984, is perhaps the best album of the band's very early period. Less critically evaluated than the debut “Murmur”, it is a drier, more guitar-based album. It has several masterpieces, which the band still plays today, not surprisingly: from “So. Central rain”, a perfect example of melodic power-pop, to “Pretty persuasion”. It is the album that best represents the sound of the beginning, before the band threw itself into experimenting with “Fables of the reconstruction” and before it returned to the fold with “Lifes rich pageant” (the true masterpiece of the first phase, even if with a slightly more “pumped” sound from Don Gehman, John Mellencamp's producer).

Then, as an addition to the reissue, there is the second disc, which is an unreleased period live performance, as already happened with “Murmur”.

The setlist here is more balanced, and also anticipates songs that would end up on subsequent albums, showing a great energy, a youthful impetuosity that they would lose in favor of other things. Of course, more could have been done, with some new features. But I don't think REM has many of them in the drawer: b-sides and demos have already been scattered in previous reissues or additional discs of collections, and so on. Maybe, if there are any, they'll keep them aside for a box: Peter Buck, being the maniac collector that he is, will definitely want to make one at some point. In short: not an album for everyone, considering the quantity of releases by the group, and the partial difficulty of finding them. But “Reckoning” remains a great little jewel, and this is an excellent opportunity to rediscover the sound of the band's origins, at its maximum splendor.