Sunday 29 August 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The REiMagined Albums - part 4

This is the last post for the time being. There were a few different things I had lined-up to be the conclusion of this run and I kept changing my mind. Recent articles have met with far less of a response than I was hoping for, so the best articles I had lined up really would have been wasted. I may post them at some point in the future - here or elsewhere - or I may not. We'll see.

In the end, I decided to round off with one more REiMagined album I put together myself (not the one that was originally planned for last week), and this one has an added twist...

I always thought 'Accelerate' was an album made to be played live. It's loud and raw, stripped of everything that made its two immediate predecessors so awful. It was a back to basics R.E.M., an album that retraced their roots back to their earliest days and those hectic shows at Tyrone's O.C. and the like.

So what I've done is basically compile a completely live version of 'Accelerate' using various performances recorded between 2005 and 2008. Now I don't have stacks of bootlegs from this era, but I have a couple, and along with some officially-released stuff, I've managed to not only bring the whole thing to life, but also sling in a couple of bonus tracks too. Tracks 1-10 follow the album tracklisting faithfully but ends with Stipe bidding the audience "goodnight". What follows is an 'encore' consisting of two non-album songs plus the album closer.

The sources I've used here are:

'Live At The Olympia' - official live album recorded in Dublin in early July 2007. The band played four nights in front of an audience to rehearse new material just prior to the recording of 'Accelerate'. The shows were billed as 'working rehearsals' rather than official live gigs. All but one of the album's songs was performed over the four nights plus two other new songs that didn't make the album, nor that have ever been released in any other form.

'The Take-Away Session' - recorded at various locations around Athens, GA. and filmed by Vincent Moon for La Blogothèque in September 2007. I've included Sing For The Submarine, a song played only a few times on the 2008 tour. This version was played inside a grain silo and features Bill Rieflin playing a plastic pot, breaking sticks and banging the side and floor of the silo!

'Live At The Rolling Stone' - bootleg of a performance at The Rolling Stone in Milan for MTV Italy. The small audience included invited Fan Club members.

'iTunes Live In London' - official recording at the Apple Store in Regent Street in March 2008. Most of the set was released on iTunes a few months later.

'Oxegen 08' - bootleg of a segment of the set played at the Oxegen Festival in Co. Kildare, Ireland in July 2008.

'Live At Rock AM Ring' - bootleg of the band's performance at the 2005 Rock AM Ring Festival at the Nürburgring, Nürburg. I'm Gonna DJ was played during the tour for 'Around The Sun' and must have been the most thrilling thing to hear from the band at that time!

I've strung it all together as a continuous file as usual - enjoy.

Accelerate [REiMagined Live]
compiled by TheRobster

1. Living Well Is The Best Revenge (Dublin)
2. Man-Sized Wreath (London)
3. Supernatural Superserious (Oxegen)
4. Hollow Man (Milan)
5. Houston (Dublin)
6. Accelerate (Dublin)
7. Until The Day Is Done (Milan)
8. Mr. Richards (Dublin)
9. Sing For The Submarine (Athens, GA.)
10. Horse To Water (London)
11. Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance (Dublin)
12. On The Fly (Dublin)
13. I'm Gonna DJ (Nürburg)

Grab it here!

As an added bonus, here's Sing For The Submarine from inside the silo!


Thanks for reading. I'm back off to my burrow for a long sleep.


Sunday 22 August 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: An Imaginary Debut Album

A change of plan. There was going to be a fourth REiMagined album, but JC and I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to finish it, so instead I'm bringing this post forward by a week.

By the time R.E.M. released debut album ‘Murmur’ in April 1983 (three years and seven days after their very first gig), they had written and discarded a heap of songs. Those chosen for the album showed a depth of songwriting quite extraordinary for a young band. It is a record that remains, 38 years later, full of mystique and intrigue, many of its songs sounding not just unlike anything else around at the time, but pretty much ever since.

Of its 12 songs, several had been written and performed more than two years earlier, surviving the numerous culls the band had made to their set over time. Songs like Radio Free Europe and Sitting Still, which comprised their debut single in 1981. Shaking Through, Laughing and 9-9 were also live staples by the end of that year too.

Other songs we’ve all become familiar with can be traced right back to R.E.M.’s embryonic period. All The Right Friends, Gardening At Night, Rockville and Just A Touch all date from the first few months of the band’s existence and ended up on R.E.M records in some form or other over the years, while Pretty Persuasion and an early version of What If We Give It Away were also performed as early as January 1981. Other songs such as Narrator, Baby I, Action and I Can’t Control Myself – all performed at their first show as an unnamed act – fell out of favour before 1981 was out and were never heard of again. Well, other than on bootlegs, of which there are many.

One thing I’ve often mused about over the years is, what if instead of recording the ‘Chronic Town’ EP, R.E.M. decided to do a full-length album? What songs would it include? And how different would it have sounded to ‘Murmur’? So to complement this run of articles on hypothetical R.E.M. releases, I decided to stop thinking about this “pre-debut” album and actually try and get a version down. Now, I’m not going to pretend that this record would ever have existed. There are no indications whatsoever that R.E.M. ever planned an album before ‘Murmur’, so this really is just a silly exercise in compiling a fantasy record that never was. I thought it might be interesting. And it has been.

So where to start... I do have to give credit to the incredible website that is The R.E.M. Timeline, an exhaustive source of every known gig, setlist and significant event in the career of R.E.M. from pre-formation through to the present post-breakup years. No self-respecting R.E.M. fan should be without it permanently bookmarked in their browser, trust me. I used this wonderful site to research what songs the band was playing around the time they ventured into Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio in North Carolina in October 1981 to record what would become ‘Chronic Town’. This was my benchmark. At their last gig before recording started, they played a hometown show at Tyrone’s in Athens, GA., a regular haunt for them in the early days. The set that night (23rd September) was:

Just A Touch / Ages Of You / 1,000,000 / Get On Their Way / There She Goes Again / Action / Wait / Sitting Still / Permanent Vacation / Mystery To Me / White Tornado / I Can't Control Myself / Burning Down / Shaking Through / Laughing / Romance / Pretty Persuasion / That Beat / Stumble / Radio Free Europe / Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars) plus an encore of The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Stranded In The Jungle - Ska / Gardening At Night / Windout / 9-9

Two nights after the final recording session in January 1982, the band played a show in Hoboken, New Jersey. This was the setlist:

Ages Of You / Catapult / Shaking Through / Gardening At Night / 9-9 / Windout / Laughing / Romance / Sitting Still / Pretty Persuasion / That Beat / 1,000,000 / Wolves, Lower / Radio Free Europe. There was also an encore comprising four cover versions before culminating with Stumble.

Between these two shows, the band was already incorporating many new songs we’d hear on subsequent releases in the place of older songs that fell out of favour. For instance, both Just A Touch and Get On Their Way were gone by the time 1982 rolled around and wouldn’t be heard of again until they were revived for the ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ album more than four years later. Action and Wait also bit the dust during this period.

Of the newer songs, Catapult was the baby of the family, having only been performed for the first time a few days before the final session at Drive-In Studios. An initial attempt to record it failed, though a few weeks later it was successfully captured during demo sessions for RCA.

These sets give us a pretty good idea of where R.E.M. were at the time, but it is by no means definitive. Permanent Vacation (not the Aerosmith song!) and Mystery To Me were still in the live set right up to the last show before those final sessions with Easter in mid-January 1982, but while they may have continued to be played thereafter, they don’t appear on the known setlists shown on The R.E.M. Timeline, so they may have been dropped shortly after. Other old favourites also became redundant during this period: Dangerous Times, Body Count, Burning Down, Different Girl, even (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville fell by the wayside.

So taking all this into account, and considering the gigs inbetween, plus the songs recorded during the ‘Chronic Town’ sessions themselves, I compiled a list of songs that, hypothetically, might have been in the running for a debut album for release in Spring 1982:

Ages Of You
Carnival Of Sorts
Gardening At Night
Mystery To Me
Permanent Vacation

Pretty Persuasion
Radio Free Europe
Shaking Through
Sitting Still
That Beat
Wolves, Lower

It’s realistic to assume all five songs that made it onto ‘Chronic Town’ would have been included, along with both sides of the debut single (though with the band’s choice of mix of RFE rather than the one that was issued). I have, however, made some completely subjective decisions. I didn’t want this to be a basic compilation of officially-released early tracks. I wanted to include some songs most people had never heard before, songs that captured the very early R.E.M. sound, the fast, energetic rock ‘n’ roll that made them such a frenetic live act at the time. So I’ve taken some liberties.

I’ve omitted 1,000,000 and Stumble. Both made it onto ‘Chronic Town’ but they are my least favourite tracks on it. I’ve also dispensed with Catapult as I think it was way too new to ever be a serious contender. 9-9 was just a bit weird to fit in with the rest of the songs, and while Laughing may well have fit, I wanted to steer away from ‘Murmur’ as much as possible and let it stand alone. Pretty Persuasion ended up being passed over for both ‘Chronic Town’ and ‘Murmur’, instead appearing on ‘Reckoning’ where it remains an undoubted highlight, so again I sidelined it for that reason.

That left 12 songs to sequence, so the next job was to source decent quality versions of them from both official and unofficial releases. Not that difficult, but not as easy as I’d hoped either, and it’s where we can kiss bye bye to any idea of consistency. The recordings I’ve used range from 1981 to 1986 so they are a bit all over the place sonically. But like I said at the start – I’m not going to pretend this is what any such record would have ever sounded like. It’s more a collection of songs that might have made the cut. So forgive the seemingly haphazard nature of the final product – just enjoy it for what it is.

The artwork features St. Mary's Episcopal Church at 396 Oconee Street, Athens, GA. Of course, you all know this was the abandoned church where R.E.M. played their very first gig back in April 1980. All that remains of the building today is the steeple (not visible in this picture) which has in recent years been undergoing renovations in order to preserve it, hallowed site that it is.

Oh, and I haven’t come up with a title, I’ve just called it R.E.M. but if you have any suggestions, I’ll rethink it and may re-title it if you impress me. Here goes:

Side One
1. Radio Free Europe (1981)
Mix taken directly from the ‘Cassette Set’ demo tape. It’s the one the band wanted as the single, but ended up being remixed by the label boss. This original version is also the one incorrectly labelled as the Original Hib-Tone Mix on ‘Eponymous’.
2. Romance (1983)
Rough mix from the ‘Murmur’ sessions, but never made it to the final mixing stage.
3. That Beat (1983)
Recorded live to two-track during the ‘Murmur’ sessions at the same time as the version of There She Goes Again used for the b-side of the re-release of Radio Free Europe, and the version of All The Right Friends which featured on the European re-issue of ‘Dead Letter Office’.
4. Mystery To Me (1986)
Demo recorded for ‘Lifes Rich Pageant, one of many early songs revived for that project. Later issued as part of the LRP 25th Anniversary re-issue in 2011.
5. Shaking Through (1981)
From the first demo sessions for ‘Chronic Town’ at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio. This is, incidentally, the same recording I used in my recent Imaginary 7" series.
6. Windout (1983)
Recorded for ‘Reckoning’, but ended up on the Bachelor Party soundtrack. Later compiled on ‘Dead Letter Office’.
segue:  Jazz Lips (segment) (1981)
A snippet of an experimental piece recorded during the demo sessions at Drive-In. This would act in a similar way to the untitled, unlisted pieces at the end of Shaking Through on ‘Murmur’ and Little America on ‘Reckoning’.

Side Two:
1. Wolves, Lower (1981)
First version recorded at the Drive-In Studio. It’s slightly faster than the one that ended up on ‘Chronic Town’ and is known as the “fast version”.
2. Sitting Still (1981)
The version featured on the ‘Cassette Set’ demo tape, also issued as the b-side of Radio Free Europe on Hib-Tone.
3. Gardening At Night (1981)
Original vocal take as featured on ‘Eponymous’, recorded for ‘Chronic Town’ on which a different vocal take was used.
4. Ages Of You (1981)
Original mix, recorded at Drive-In for ‘Chronic Town’. Remixed version used as b-side to Wendell Gee single and 'Dead Letter Office' compilation.
5. Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars) (1981)
Recorded during first Drive-In Studios demos session
6. Permanent Vacation (1981)
I don’t have a studio recording of this, so this is a live version captured at Tyrone’s in Athens on 10th April 1981. My copy is from the legendary vinyl bootleg ‘So Much Younger Then’.

compiled by TheRobster

1. Radio Free Europe
2. Romance
3. That Beat
4. Mystery To Me
5. Shaking Through
6. Windout

7. Wolves, Lower
8. Sitting Still
9. Gardening At Night
10. Ages Of You
11. Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)
12. Permanent Vacation

Grab it here

What’s that you say? An Imaginary 7”? What a brilliant idea, wish I’d thought of that. OK, so how about Ages Of You? I’ve always liked it, and to promote ‘Dead Letter Office’, a 12” promo was issued in the States for it. Never a 7” in any country though, and certainly not the mix included here. For the b-side, I’ve returned to the ‘So Much Younger Then’ boot which has lots of those early songs that never made it onto official releases. Body Count is one of the band’s most interesting early songs in that it is possibly their first attempt at an overtly political lyric. An anti-war song that explicitly references Vietnam, the subject would be raised again in 1988 on Orange Crush. It’s also by far their longest track from the period.

The artwork is based on a photo of a sculpture in Rev. Howard Finster's 'Paradise Garden'. Finster, as you probably know, was an artist whose work with R.E.M. spanned a number of years. The band filmed the video for Radio Free Europe in Paradise Garden; Stipe and Finster co-designed the artwork for 'Reckoning'; and Maps And Legends was written as a homage to Finster. He can also be seen in the 'Athens, GA. Inside/Out' documentary.

A Bonus Imaginary R.E.M. 7"

A: Ages Of You
B: Body Count [live at Tyrone’s]

side A: from 'R.E.M.', an Imaginary pre-‘Murmur’ debut album
side B: previously unreleased

(click sleeve art to enlarge)

And a video for you... captured live at The Pier, Raleigh, NC. on 10th October 1982 here's a sadly incomplete but still utterly compelling clip of Ages Of You. Stipe is having a great time, grinning throughout, Mike Mills looks about 12 years old, and Buck and Berry are just coolness personified.

Sunday 15 August 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The REiMagined Albums - part 3

It was anyone's guess what 'Up' would sound like prior to its release in 1998. The band's first without the lynchpin that was Bill Berry, what would they be able to come up with as a three piece? Initial single Daysleeper hinted that it would be business as usual, an almost by-numbers R.E.M. piece, but the reality was anything but. 'Up' was a very different R.E.M. record, steeped in electronics and experimentation.

As such, reaction to it was mixed, and many see it as the beginning of the band's commercial and critical downturn. And it probably was, but that's not to say that somewhere amongst this sprawling 14/15-song mass there isn't a really good 40 minute record screaming to get out. It definitely suffers from being too long, much like its predecessor, so JC and I need to get our snippers out and come up with a version of 'Up' that does away with the downs. So I fired my initial suggestions over to my Caledonian compadre:

This is one I don't listen to as much as 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi', probably because there's so much going on, it's quite hard work to get through. That said, some of the finest moments on 'Up' are its more peculiar and diverse. So consistency may have to go out the window. That's particularly evident with my proposed Side One.

Side One
1. Daysleeper
2. Lotus
3. At My Most Beautiful
4. Hope
5. Sad Professor

Side Two
6. I'm Not Over You
7. Walk Unafraid
8. The Apologist
9. Why Not Smile
10. Falls To Climb

I've dispensed with Suspicion (no surprise there), You're In The Air, Diminished, Parakeet and Airportman. I did toy with putting Airportman in there as the closing track. I moved it around a few times but just couldn't make it work. It's not one of my favourite songs on the record, but I feel it kind of should be there as if to make a point that this is not the R.E.M. we once knew. It makes that point immediately on the real 'Up', being the opening track. But that's always irked me, and I tend to start playing the album from Lotus onwards.

Therefore Daysleeper makes the cut as the opener instead of being buried as deep as it appears on the actual album. It kind of leads us more gently into the 'new' R.E.M. with a sense of familiarity. The other two singles are next, followed by my Imaginary 7" choice. It's not deliberate to put the singles together like this, nor is it intentional to put the most diverse selection of tracks together first. It worked out that way and I like how they do seem to work in sequence. Sad Professor closes the side as a way of introducing a more contemporary (if that's the right word) sounding second side.

You'll notice I've also included I'm Not Over You as a track in its own right. It's lost on the original album as a hidden interlude at the end of Diminished, and live Stipe performed it in the encore entirely solo, with his rudimentary guitar playing. I think that alone merits inclusion - it's the song that gave Michael Stipe the confidence to perform without his bandmates.

Both Walk Unafraid and The Apologist are songs that could have been singles (certainly far better singles than Suspicion was), while Why Not Smile and Falls To Climb are both utterly gorgeous and contrast each other. Why Not Smile is a desperate plea to a very unhappy, totally despondent individual, while Falls To Climb's protagonist laments on all the lows in his/her life, yet somehow sees hope at the climax, the song's anti-crescendo with its drum rolls and sparkling synths seeming to emphasise that all may not be lost. That for all the downs, there may just be an 'Up' around the corner. It closes the original record and there's no more fitting way to close mine.

I considered a couple of different versions of some songs but they just didn't quite have the effect I was looking for, so this is simply a straightforward effort, culling some songs and rearranging what's left. From 65 minutes down to 40 - I think my work here is done. Over to you.

JC responded with a rather succinct missive which doesn't leave an awful lot to debate. But then, 'Up' was always a difficult album to love for numerous reasons, length being just one of them. He still offered some interesting thoughts though:

I found this quite tough. I think that's a combination of things - not being a huge fan of much of the album and a touch of blog/writing fatigue in recent weeks. I could easily drop this album to a six-track, bargain price EP, but to keep things simple, I decided that I'd stick with the ten tracks you settled for but suggest a marginally different running order, as well as one alternative version.

Side One
1. I'm Not Over You
2. Walk Unafraid
3. At My Most Beautiful
4. Hope
5. Sad Professor

Side Two
6. Daysleeper
7. Lotus
8. The Apologist
9. Why Not Smile [Oxford American version]
10. Falls To Climb

You'll see that I'm suggesting flipping the first two tracks from each side. My initial thought was to open with Walk Unafraid as I reckon it's one of the most underrated songs from the era, largely as it was one they seemed to crank up in the live setting, but your thoughts on I'm Not Over You being a stand-alone track make such great sense, and I feel opening the album in that way would be as much of a curve-ball as Airportman actually was.

Lotus is one of the great second songs of any album, and it was down to follow Walk Unafraid on my first draft. But having changed my mind, and decided to go with I'm Not Over You as the opener, it just felt too much of a shock to the system to go straight into a song which opens up 'Hey, Hey....'. Therefore it goes to Side Two and it does fit in well after Daysleeper.

As for Why Not Smile, it's simply down to me liking the other version a bit more.

Now like last week, when I received Jim's reply, I thought there's not much of a hot debate to be had here, certainly not one that warrants a Zoom call. But not for the first time, he got me thinking. And that's no mean feat in itself!

My safe opening track was being brought into question. JC reckons I'm Not Over You would have made more of a statement, and he certainly has a point. But I tried it out myself and I'm not entirely convinced. I do think it works better opening side two.

However, I can't argue with his position on Walk Unafraid. It is one of the band's best tracks of the period and deserved more attention. I just can't get over the fact that the studio version really underplays its strengths though, strengths that shone through when played live. So I thought "what if I could get it sounding more like the live version in order to really bring it out of itself?" So I set about attempting that. After a fair bit of experimentation (and frustration at my chronic lack of remixing skills), I ended up settling on a particularly good live version (recorded for The Black Sessions on France Inter radio, and officially unreleased), onto which I welded a couple of studio snippets and fixed a little vocal slip in the middle where Stipe didn't get back to the mic in time!

Now I feel Walk Unafraid sounds and feels more like it should and therefore worthy of side one, track two. Lotus, which held that feted position on my offering, takes its place on side two.

The only remaining thing to consider is the version of Why Not Smile. I went for the album version, JC opted for the alternative take that featured on the b-side of Daysleeper. And to be fair, although they both sound very different, there's very little to separate them in terms of quality. In the end, I only decided to retain the album version due to running time. It's a minute longer than the other one and therefore makes for a more even side two compared to the slightly longer side one.

So there it is - 'Up REiMagined', a shorter, more focussed version of R.E.M.'s much overlooked 'transitional album'. And a better one I reckon. Agree? Once again, the whole thing is down below for your enjoyment.

Up REiMagined
compiled by TheRobster & JC

1. Daysleeper
2. Walk Unafraid [Black Session edit]
3. At My Most Beautiful
4. Hope
5. Sad Professor

6. I'm Not Over You
7. Lotus
8. The Apologist
9. Why Not Smile
10. Falls To Climb

Grab it here

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

Sunday 1 August 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The REiMagined albums - part 1

When JC and I were working on the Singular Adventures series over at his place, one of the things that came up in the comments a number of times was how some of R.E.M.'s albums could have been better had they been shorter, or had alternative tracklists. It's certainly something I've mused over from time to time.

So after the Imaginary Singles, I thought it was time to reimagine a few of the albums to see if we actually could make them better. Now, the IRS years are pretty much sacred - even though I had considered discussing 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. I still might at some point. But there are four Warner Bros. albums that I think need to be examined. Obviously, neither 'Reveal' nor 'Around The Sun' are worth the effort - there's nowt you can do to make either of those even close to half-decent. Maybe an EP between them at best.

But here's the rub: anything I decide on is always going to be subjective and heavily biased towards what I think. So I thought it would be good to have another perspective, perhaps bring someone in who also has a lot of love and knowledge of the band, has written a blog post or two, and maybe who I've collaborated with in the past.

And so, this month, I'm teaming back up with my Scottish mate, the Blogfather himself, the one and only Vinyl Villain - JC!

Today, we're discussing 'Out Of Time'. Released in 1990, it was R.E.M.'s second major label album, their seventh in all. It was their big commercial breakthrough and its songs have become like family members to many of us - some beloved, some irritating and some we don't talk about.

I started out by sending JC my proposed tracklist for a newly REiMagined version of 'Out Of Time':

1. Losing My Religion
2. Near Wild Heaven
3. It's A Free World Baby
4. Half A World Away
5. Belong
6. Low
7. Texarkana
8. Fretless
9. Country Feedback
10. Me In Honey

So out go Radio Song, Shiny Happy People and Endgame, but in come It's a Free World Baby and Fretless. Total running time 42:16, a couple minutes shorter, and one track less, than the original but better. I'd probably play it more than I play the actual Out Of Time.

Over to you...

To which JC responded with the following:

1. Half A World Away
2. Low
3. Radio Song
4. Texarkana
5. Country Feedback

6. Losing My Religion
7. Fretless
8. Shiny Happy People
9.  Belong
10. Me In Honey

I've dropped Near Wild Heaven and Endgame. I do like It's A Free World Baby, but I just can't find a way to squeeze it on to this particular album without it interfering too much with the running order and knocking it out of sync.

Clearly, this was going to be a bigger task than I first envisaged. Some heavy discussions were needed.  JC continued with some of the thinking behind his version:

Half A World Away was such an inspiring start to the Unplugged show and would do the same here, helping to highlight the semi-acoustic nature of the new album.

Low stays where it is - a broody, threatening number for the chin-scratchers.

Radio Song - I can't bring myself to drop it, albeit it hasn't aged well. But putting in after Low makes for such a contrast in tone and tempo, mirroring the original album, that I think it works

Texarkana - one which harks back to the IRS days, and at this stage provides comfort when it's most needed to those fans of old who are not sure if they are liking the new material.

Country Feedback - well, if you heard this as the closing song of the first side of the new album, you'd definitely want to turn it over in a state of great anticipation. And if it's the CD you have... then Losing My Religion on the back of it just works really well!

The second side of the album (or Tracks 7-10 on the CD), to my ears, just seems to flow pretty well. I'm on record as saying Shiny Happy People is a great pop song, so I wouldn't drop it.

Looking at the overall picture, I think I've come up with two fairly balanced sides of an album, especially is the track listing on the back of the sleeve looks like this:

Now THAT is just showing off, isn't it? But for all JC's reasoning, I had my own thoughts to offer:

Radio Song is out as I simply cannot listen to it anymore. It is dated as you say, but also cringemakingly cheesy. Shiny Happy People is out too simply because it's another one I don't like anymore, although I fully accept why people feel it has its place on 'Out Of Time'. Endgame goes too because it's nothing more than a b-side.

I opened with Losing My Religion as for some reason I just can't think of a better place to put it. It's punchy and immediate, although in a very different way to previous album openers.

I dithered a bit with Near Wild Heaven. I didn't really want it so early in the tracklisting, but when I listen to it now, it seems to fit pretty well next to LMR and keeps the mood on a high.

Track three was always going to be difficult. I went for It's A Free World Baby over Low, but I do wonder if that was the right choice. Either way, Half A World Away has to come next. It lifts the mood again but in a very different manner. Not having it as an opener though! That's like opening 'Green' with You Are The Everything!!! (This will be our first big talking point I reckon!)

Belong closes side one because I think it sounds like a side one closer. I think I went for Low opening side two as It's A Free World Baby sounds a little too similar to Belong to have them back to back. Texarkana is another mood-lifter before we hit Fretless and Country Feedback. I only ever hear Me In Honey as an album closer now, it doesn't work anywhere else for me. It's the only thing we seem to agree on.

One final e-mail from JC:

Truth be told, I read your listing and thought to myself: "that’s great..easiest thing to do is agree and we are off and running."

But, having gone out on a limb for Shiny Happy People in three singles series, I have to stand by it! I actually started off by working out where best to place it and what to surround it with... kind of like taking the most difficult aspect of the project and, once that’s solved, let the rest fall into place.

I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that Half A World Away would have made the perfect opener.  I don’t think the comparison to You Are The Everything (in this instance) is valid as the songs have quite a different tempo and rhythm. As I said, listen to how it sets the tone and mood for the Unplugged show... makes me think the band had it lined up as an opener if they had chosen to play live shows back in the day.

So, we had to thrash things out once and for all to get a definitive tracklist we were both happy with. And that's where Zoom came in. Yep, we had a proper, old-fashioned discussion (albeit with the help of technology). It was great to see Jim "in the flesh" as it were, and as you'd expect, with two middle-aged men talking about music, it went on a bit but not in a bad way. I started by offering my thoughts on the opening song.

"I see what you mean about Half A World Away, but I just think the opening track needs to be a bit punchier." So I pulled rank here and, as JC said, got the hit single out of the way. "You can have Half A World Away as track 2 though," I offered.

We quickly agreed that track three needed to be a bit of a slower one and while I had It's A Free World Baby, we went with Low in the end. The first three were done and dusted pretty quickly then, as was the final track. No arguments here, both of us agree Me In Honey is the natural closer. But what comes in between?

"I think we need something a bit more upbeat to follow Low. You had Radio Song but I really don't want that."

"I kind of like it."

"It's funny because at the time it came out, so did I. It was different, but by the time it came out as a single I'd got tired of it."

"I think there wasn't a lot of that alternative/rap crossover at the time, so for R.E.M. to do it was something different. But it could have been better."

"I understand why they did it with KRS-One, with him being a very political artist, but yes, it could have been a lot better."

"OK so if you want something upbeat, how about Texarkana?"

"That would work. I actually also had a thought that I'd give you Shiny Happy People. I don't like it, but I suppose it does have its place. It's just what do I leave out? Maybe Near Wild Heaven? Of the two Mike Mills tracks, I prefer Texarkana."

"So do I. And Jonny will be happier..."

JC was particularly keen that I should consider Country Feedback as track 5. "I just love the idea of it being a closer. And then if you're thinking about Shiny Happy People, putting that next, I mean, that would really mess with people's heads!"

That was something I had to take away and try out, but I was intrigued by his reasoning. I love any excuse to mess with people's heads! So try it I did, and he's sort of right. Country Feedback does have a closing track vibe about it, but one which also leaves you needing more. I suppose in an ideal world I'd be able to create an extended 10-minute version with a Neil Young-esque guitar solo playing through to the end. Like the live version they recorded with, erm, Neil Young... Alas, I'm not nearly clever enough to pull that off, and it would make the album too long for a single vinyl record.

"I know we're thinking of this as an LP," JC chimes in again before offering yet another pearl of wisdom, "but I think of it as a CD as well, and I think if we go for Country Feedback here, we need to have a short gap at the end, five seconds of dead sound. If you go straight into the next track it might sound a bit jarring."

"So we still have Belong and Fretless, and I still want to find a place for It's A Free World Baby."

"Well Fretless you could drop in anywhere..."

"Back in the day I bought loads of bootlegs and I have one with some Out Of Time demos that includes both those songs, and I have to admit I've always preferred the demo version of Free World without the flutes and recorders."

"So put the demo on then. There's no rules that say you shouldn't."

Indeed, another excellent point by JC (he's full of them, fair play). And let's face it, the version of Country Feedback on the album is the demo. It was only recorded once and it remains possibly their finest four studio minutes ever. So nowt wrong with a demo. The Free World demo is a little bit messy, and perhaps a tad long too so I'll give it a little tweak to make it fit.

So side one is done, as is the beginning and end of side two. Now it's just about sequencing what's left. I did fear that It's A Free World Baby and Belong might sound a little too similar to each other being both bass-led. But on hearing them together, they actually work quite well as a pairing and not as similar as I originally thought. Fretless is such a sad song, it belongs where Country Feedback is on the original album - just before the lively finale.

And that's it - our definitive REiMagined version of 'Out Of Time' is a reality. It's a couple minutes shorter than the official album, but, perhaps even cleverer than JC's mirrored track titles, both 'sides' of our record are pretty much exactly the same length as each other! I've compiled it in a single-file MP3 for your listening pleasure (along with some effects for vinyl authenticity). Let us know what you think.

Out Of Time REiMagined
compiled by TheRobster & JC

1. Losing My Religion
2. Half A World Away
3. Low
4. Texarkana
5. Country Feedback

6. Shiny Happy People
7. It's A Free World Baby
8. Belong
9. Fretless
10. Me In Honey

Grab it here