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Avant de partir pour Warner, REM a soldé son compte dans son ancienne maison de disques en publiant cette curieuse compilation. Elle regroupe des faces B de singles, des inédits, des instrumentaux et des reprises. C'est l'occasion d'entendre REM s'amuser quand ils reprennent "King Of The Road" du crooner country Roger Miller ou, plus étonnant encore, "Toys In The Attic" d'Aerosmith ! Ils sont plus sérieux, et plus inspirés aussi, quand ils jouent la bagatelle de trois classiques du Velvet Underground : "Pale Blue Eyes", "Femme Fatale" et "There She Goes Again". Notons aussi que cette réédition CD a l'avantage d'inclure le tout premier maxi du groupe, Chronic Town, devenu introuvable mais toujours indispensable. --Hubert Deshouse
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This is a great collection of 22 tracks of odds and ends of R.E.M's early years that is more fun and interesting than any of their greatest hits collections could ever hope to be. This CD from Europe contains the entire "Dead Letter Office" record from 1987 and the "Chronic Town" EP of 1982 and this expanded "European IRS Years" version also includes an acoustic "Gardening At Night" and the previously unreleased song "All The Right Friends"
R.E.M. were of interest to bootleggers from their first year onwards and the band knew this and often commented on those bootlegs with fondness in the early 1980's and this record from IRS Records was the reaction to all those boots that had so much of this material included on them. From a nice cover of Pylon's: "Crazy" to Aerosmith's: "Toys In The Attic" to the Velvet Underground: "Pale Blue Eyes" & "There She Goes Again" to outtakes: "Burning Down" & "Burning Hell" that could only be found as b-sides in the UK. The band wrote: "Walter's Theme" hoping the owner would like it so much as to give them some free Bar B-Q!
My favorite track of this collection is the wonderful: "Voice Of Harold" that was a the b-side of "South Central Rain" in England and the messy and great version of Roger Miller's: "King Of The Road" where Michael Stipe cannot even remember the lyrics...This band was having big fun and this disc is the result of those odd moments in many studios.
The "Chronic Town" section of five songs is the largest portion of early R.E.M. songs ever to be brought out and as my wish would be to hear the other 75 or so songs that the band would play live in their first three yeays of 1980, 81 & 82 that were never recorded I am quite happy this document survives as this EP sounds like nobody else and Chronic Town sounds great. "Wolves, Lower" "Gardening At Night" "Box Cars" "1,000,000" and "Stumble" there are no duffers in this bunch, every single one of these songs are fantastic and busting forth with mucho-energy that you will not hear from the records brought forth in the ninties and the 00's by this very same group. R.E.M. were playing for themselves and to a very small bunch of followers as they toured with Jefferson ("are we lost?") in a station wagon with as much gear as they could tie onto it traveling from one small town in the south to the next. "Chronic Town" is a time-capsule of a band earning eating-money.
Make sure you order the: "IRS Years" edition to receive the full 22 track collection and play this one forever.
Four & 1/2 Stars!
Anyway, 'Dead Letter Office' accentuates the arbitrariness of labels while keeping in mind Peter Buck's commentary. To sort through this collection is mostly a fun-filled adventure. Despite other's commentaries, I believe their renditions of Velvet Underground sounds aren't extraneous, but good interpretations that show their musical finesse. Other able moments abound, like their version of "Toys in the Attic," "Ages of You," and the heartwarming "Bandwagon". The best song of the group is, in my humble estimation, one of their ten best. "Windout" is a progressive number with expert guitar work by Peter Buck and a spirited performance all around. "Voice of Herald" is a remake of "Seven Chinese Brothers" done identically to the 'Reckoning' musically, but with different words. Here Michael Stipe leads a diatribe at someone of pompous self-importance, probably in the gospel music industry. "Crazy," which starts the album, gives us able folk-rock with both an urgent and caressing delivery by Stipe. Some instrumentals are also present. The compilation flows well, and the only stinker is their rendition of Mitch Miller's "King of the Road," but, even this song is interesting. It gives us the impression that, as perfectionistic as the band is, they probably arrived in the studio after a few beers and recorded this song off-the-cuff. Their debut 'Chronic Town' follows the original album. It is a dark piece of folk-rock, New Wave music and a fine debut. Since it was only an E.P. originally with only five songs, 'Dead Letter Office' makes a nice C.D. home for a brilliant debut. Even R.E.M's trashcan brings us treasure.
My favorites include the three Velvet Underground covers: There She Goes Again, Pale Blue Eyes and Femme Fatale. I also love the spiritual song Voice Of Harold with its gripping melody, churning guitars and whistling towards the end.
Other tracks of note are the instrumental White Tornado with its powerful guitars, the speedy and energetic Toys In The Attic, Wolves Lower with its nervous rhythm, Gardening At Night with its lovely winding melody and All The Right Friends.
Their sound appears a bit thin in places in this early phase of their career but it's rather charming to listen to the beginnings of this amazing band that later give us masterpieces like Document, Out Of Time and Automatic For The People.