Sunday, 8 August 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The REiMagined Albums - part 2

It's 25 years since R.E.M. released their magnum opus 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi'. I know, shocking isn't it? At the time of its release, I doubt anyone could have predicted that it would become one of the band's best loved albums.

It was a different and difficult record in many ways. Firstly, the songs were written on the road and, for the most part, recorded live - the basis of most tracks captured during soundchecks and rehearsals during 1995's Monster Tour. Perhaps because of this, sonically it sounds very different too. Shorn of studio effects and technology, it's probably the band's rawest-sounding record.

'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' was also their longest album to date, clocking in at an epic 65 minutes across its 14 (fourteen!!!) tracks. And it's this that I think is the one problem with it - it's just too long. "It needs trimming," as JC eloquently puts it. So this week, we trim NAiHF to make it fit on two sides of vinyl. It's not going to be easy...

Here's my first email to JC: The first place to start is what songs to leave off. This isn't the most difficult task for me. No one needs Zither, which should have been a b-side at best. I can also do without Bittersweet Me, Binky The Doormat and, perhaps controversially, How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us. That last one in particular is a weird one. It's such a strange song to open an album with, and even more strange that it's this album. I really don't dislike it at all, but it never felt to me like 'New Adventures' actually got started until The Wake-Up Bomb kicked in, and that's why that's my designated opener.

Side One
1. The Wake Up Bomb
2. So Fast, So Numb
3. New Test Leper
4. E-Bow The Letter
5. Departure

Side Two
1. Leave
2. Be Mine
3. Undertow
4. Low Desert
5. Electrolite

I'm happy with that, except that it's still 50 minutes long, which is too lengthy for a good quality single vinyl album. So I'm going to do a couple of edits in the hope of fixing that. I've already got a version of Leave I did which shaves two whole minutes off, without losing any of its extraordinary dynamic.

I've moved So Fast So Numb up into second as it's one of the strongest tracks on the album and it keeps the hard-hitting, uptempo mood set by the opener. I like Leave as the opener of side 2, hence why I've decided to swap it in the running order with Departure, which fits well after E-Bow. Electrolite has to end things though, doesn't it? Stipe's sign-off "I'm outta here" is perfect, and it also means he is the first and last thing you hear on my version of the album.

You'll notice I haven't added anything new. To keep my options open, I did consider Revolution, plus a couple of covers released as b-sides - Wichita Lineman and Sponge. Revolution is a good track, but I couldn't find a place for it. Against the other tracks I have, it just didn't feel right. I adore Wichita Lineman, and I'm not against having a cover (they did it for Superman on LRP and Strange on 'Document'), but again, it just wouldn't fit. Sponge was a studio recording with a drum machine, so it may have been made after Bill quit in which case it was never a contender.

Given 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' is his favourite R.E.M. album, JC's response wasn't entirely unexpected:

I may be some time with this one. It’s like asking me to put 14 well loved singles into a box and been told you can only keep no more than 10 of them, and even then, they can’t be lengthy.

One thing we will agree on - Electrolite closes it.  It will be the last song I ever post on the blog, assuming I’m in control of its closedown.

It's OK Jim, no rush mate. Take your time to get it right.



Ooh look, a tumbleweed...

You done yet Jim? JC? Hello>>hello>>hello...

Ah, here he is!

I’ve spent a couple of hours going through all the permutations.  On the basis of approx 45 mins being the ideal length of an album, and not wanting to edit any of the tracks, I’m going with a reimagined album of just nine songs.

I’ve thought long and hard, and part of that process was wanting to have the band come up with something that was another surprise after 'Monster':

Side One (running time - 22:04)
1. The Wake-Up Bomb
2. E-Bow the Letter
3. Leave
4. So Fast, So Numb

Side Two (running time - 22:44)
1. How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us
2. New Test Leper
3. Undertow
4. Low Desert
5. Electrolite

Side one: Put the needle in the groove (or hit the play button... I’ve only got this on CD and am desperate for a vinyl copy but they are too expensive on the second hand market).

“Oh it’s Monster, Mk 2”.

But as the rest of this album now proceeds, it’s clear that first impressions are quite wrong. E-Bow, followed by Leave will astound even the most passionate and long-standing REM fans.  The newcomers will be bemused.  The acoustic introduction to the latter follows on perfectly from the end of E-Bow, but nothing on this planet prepares you for its 1-minute mark.

There were a number of contenders to close off side 1, but So Fast, So Numb gets in, partly on the time factor, but also because it seems to be a fine book end to Wake Up Bomb which, I agree with you, makes for the perfect opener no matter how you look at it.

Side Two: I love How The West Was Won..., and given that it was never opening side one, then it gets to come on at half time to make as big an impression as possible.

The rest of side two also features the more mellow and downbeat numbers, but centred around the magnificence of Undertow. I genuinely think that if this re-imagined side two was a reality, it would be my most played piece of R.E.M.plastic.

Well, the good news is we not only agree on the opening track, but also the final three! We also concur on the inclusion of four other songs, just not their placings. And then there's the small matter of 9 tracks or 10? And what the other track(s) should be.

Well, the thing is, there's not an awful lot to discuss here, certainly not as much as last week's piece. Add to that, the fact that JC and I had both been struggling to muster up much enthusiasm to write stuff (at the time of writing), that we decided to keep this simple.

Jim makes quite a case for his side two. I wasn't sure initially about having a string of quieter or more downbeat songs, but then I thought back to 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. If you look at the original planned tracklist for that record - which appears on the back of its sleeve - you'll notice that side one was going to be all the 'rockers', while side two was going to be the mellower, quieter side.

So with that thought, I decided to give JC his side two exactly as he planned. But I'm taking side one and I really want Departure. So I've opted for a slight rejig to include my edit of Leave as well, and come up with a side of 'rockers' that would rival any side one the band actually put out.

Once again, the finished article, complete with vinyl crackles, is available as a single file below. Let us know what you think.

New Adventures In Hi-Fi REiMagined
compiled by TheRobster & JC

1. The Wake-Up Bomb
2. So Fast, So Numb
3. E-Bow The Letter
4. Leave [edit]
5. Departure

6. How The West Was Won & Where It Got Us
7. New Test Leper
8. Undertow
9. Low Desert
10. Electrolite

Grab it here


  1. Once again, great post. Will have to listen to this a few times to get my head round it but it looks like a winner. Glad HTWWWAWIGU made the cut, superb song.

  2. Great idea to make side one a "rockers" list. I thnk I'd swap "Low Desert" for "Be Mine" (even if the latter could do with being edited down a bit) and like Swiss Adam and JC, I couldn't see the album "New Adventures in New Adventures in Hi-Fi"?)without HTWWWAWIGU, even if it is a errible choice as an opener.
    Looking forward to your REiMaging of "Up", an album I feel is full of great stuff but let down by including the kitchen sink.