CD Review – R.E.M. “The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003”

The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003
Warner Bros.

The members of R.E.M. have never been enthusiastic about “Greatest Hits” albums, but nonetheless they just released In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, their second album classified as such.

The album contains a good variety of R.E.M.’s Warner Bros. catalogue. But while it’s called The Best of R.E.M., some of the band’s best tracks are left off the album. “Losing My Religion” is the only track included from Out of Time (What, no “Country Feedback?”). And while there are four songs included from Automatic for the People, it must be stated that that whole album should be included on a “Best of” record.

It’s easy to see why R.E.M. included the catchy “Electrolite” and “Daysleeper” from its more recent, less well-known albums like Up and New Adventures In Hi-Fi. They are great inclusions for the uninitiated R.E.M. fan who may not have heard the songs before. While some other challenging and innovative songs from the band’s more recent work didn’t make it onto In Time, its new tunes are fairly represented on the album.

To spread the different styles evenly, the songs are not in chronological order but are well sequenced, making a smooth listen from start to finish. While the slightly silly “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” might seem an odd choice to put on a greatest hits, the tune balances out R.E.M.’s more somber work. It’s also a better choice to represent R.E.M.’s lighthearted side than “Shiny Happy People” — maybe the only hit from the band’s Warner Bros. years absent from this album.

In Time includes two songs previously available only on movie soundtracks. The excellent “The Great Beyond” (from Man on the Moon) was an appropriate addition, appealing to fans new and old who don’t own the soundtrack.

R.E.M. recorded two new songs for In Time, “Bad Day” and “Animal.” “Bad Day” is a sing-along typical of R.E.M.’s ’80s style, and the track has been compared to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” (incidentally, a song pre-1988 and therefore not on this album). “Animal” is a loud rocker, which sounds more like classic R.E.M. and fits in well with the rest of the album even if it’s not one of the band’s strongest songs.

This selection of some of R.E.M.’s most popular and easily accessible songs is a good introduction for those who don’t know much about the band. For those who are truly interested in finding some of R.E.M.’s best work, Automatic for the People or Up might be the better way to go. But as a greatest hits package meant to represent the last fifteen years of R.E.M., In Time is a good statement.