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In Time’: A brief history of R.E.M.

Molly Griffin | Tuesday, December 9, 2003

R.E.M. does not look or act like a typical rock band. Michael Stipe, the lead singer, is tall, lanky and bald and the other band members don’t have a visible tattoo, piercing or obnoxious dye job among them. The fact that they’ve been around long enough to put out their “best of” CD, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, provides further proof of their distinct difference from the rest of rock and roll.The CD covers R.E.M.’s music from the release of their album, Green, which was the first that gained any major national attention. This unfortunately keeps their infamously karaoke-unfriendly song, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” off of the album. Aside from that major exclusion, the album includes a variety of their most famous songs, as well as a few lesser-known but equally good ones. In Time spans from “Man on the Moon” to “Everybody Hurts,” and to their most famous song, “Losing My Religion.” Songs that aren’t quite as famous but still provide perspective on R.E.M.’s style and career include “At My Most Beautiful” and “Daysleeper” from their 1998 disc Up; “E-Bow the Letter” and “Electrolite” from 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” from Automatic for the People in 1992. The CD also includes two new songs, “Bad Day” and “Animal,” which are surprisingly good and add to the album as a whole which is a rare occurrence, considering the kind of hastily thrown together “new” songs that are usually included with greatest hits CDs. “Bad Day” is reminiscent of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” because of it’s rapid-fire delivery and up-beat tempo, and “Animal” has a more driving melody.The booklet included with the CD contains the background behind each song on the album and the insight provided on the sources of or meanings behind some of the songs is fascinating, not just for R.E.M. fans but also for anyone with an interest in how music comes to fruition. Nothing other than the background to songs is included in the booklet and lyrics, like on most R.E.M. albums, and must be hunted down on the Internet because the band doesn’t include them.Overall, In Time is an enjoyable CD, and it represents the breadth of R.E.M.’s career, but it doesn’t have the depth that a band with the longevity and talent of R.E.M. deserves. Granted, summarizing their lengthy career in one disc is a near impossible task, and In Time is a valiant effort, but it just feels incomplete. The music itself suffers nothing by being on the disk, but R.E.M. as a band isn’t adequately represented by the material included. If they had just taken the risk and made it a two-disc set, it would have been a much more complete and satisfying effort.