It’s worth noting on the slightly early arrival of this 25th anniversary edition of R.E.M.’s first major label effort (initially released early Nov.,1988), of how much heat the band took by signing with Warner Brothers after early success with I.R.S. Here was a once scrappy group getting in bed with big business, everything the Athens based quartet seemed to be rallying against both lyrically and musically to this point. Ultimately, even hardcore fans had to admit that the bigger budget and additional time R.E.M. used to craft this Warner’s debut served to enhance the music’s quality. While some nods to commerciality appear in the singalong moments of “Stand” and “Get Up,” there was no arguing with the sheer sonic punch of “Orange Crush,” the melodic folk-rock jangle of the politically charged “World Leader Pretend” and the riffy power pop of the aptly titled “Pop Song 89.” Add the mandolin enriched tunefulness of the beautiful acoustic “You Are The Everything,” perhaps a precursor to the next album’s hit “Losing My Religion,” and a batch of typically obtuse Stipe lyrics to songs such as “Hairshirt” for an album that stands as one of the top 5 in R.E.M.’s catalogue. The clean remastering reveals nuances you may not have previously noticed, and even if the surround sound version from 2005 (now out of print) was impressive, this reminds us of how spacious yet potent Scott Litt’s production was.
But the real reason to replace your original is the nearly 80 minute second disc of a live show from the Green tour. This electrifying 1989 set finds R.E.M. in top form, mixing older songs with the majority of Green’s tunes as both get boosted by on-stage sparks.
A tour poster, historical liner notes and four black and white picture cards stuffed into a sturdy box are little more than fluff to justify the deluxe tag and associated inflated price point that retains the faint whiff of cash in. Regardless, this is a quality reissue that solidifies and even enhances R.E.M.’s already lofty position as one of the ’80s finest and most timeless acts.