Hardly essential, but a welcome addition to a massive catalogue...
R.E.M. - Unplugged 1991/2001

An entirely unnecessary posthumous addition to R.E.M.’s swollen discography, but welcomed nevertheless, ‘Unplugged 1991/2001’ collects two MTV sessions in an attractive double-disc set. To say that it holds little in the way of surprises might be obvious, but with a package like this, one goes into a listen well aware of what to expect.

1991’s performance focuses on that year’s ‘Out Of Time’ LP – a chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic, it was this album that catapulted its makers into the mainstream, having previously enjoyed more of a cult, college-radio reputation. ‘Radio Song’, ‘Half A World Away’, ‘Low’ and ‘Endgame’ all feature, as does the band’s first legitimate hit single, ‘Losing My Religion’.

But there’s space, too, for some older, some might say more affecting cuts. ‘Perfect Circle’, even 31 years since its release on debut album ‘Murmur’ (Spotlight feature) and exclusively acoustically framed, retains every moment of its quiet power.

2001’s set includes the gorgeous ‘Daysleeper’ and ‘At My Most Beautiful’, both from 1998’s sometimes underappreciated ‘Up’ LP. Frontman Michael Stipe’s voice has deepened a little in the intervening years, which makes for a sharper take on ‘Losing My Religion’, the only song to appear in both sets.

Perhaps surprisingly there’s no ‘Everybody Hurts’, and only one ‘Automatic For The People’ number makes an appearance, ‘Find The River’. From the ‘Out Of Time’ period, the forever fraught ‘Country Feedback’ makes for a 2001 highlight – it’s said to be Stipe’s personal favourite from his band’s catalogue.

Hardly essential, then, but ‘Unplugged’ is a fans-pleasing release that serves as a reminder that songs with great longevity needn’t always be played loudly.


Words: Mike Diver

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