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REM hit their stride
on 16 May 2013
Aptly titled, "Green", REM's sixth record album - and their first for globalmegacompany Warners who kept them until their disbandment in 2011 - saw them stride confidently, and with barely a glance, into the big leagues. At this point, the band moved from the Manchester Apollo to headlining the Birmingham NEC and Wembley Arena, the venues they were still playing in their final years.
On the surface though, the record is unbowed by commerciality : the more accessable songs - "Stand", "Orange Crush", and so forth - sound unforced, natural extensions of the quirky pop philosophy demonstrated on their previous albums. Here though, and with the astute muscle of Warner Bros. Behidn them, REM followed a path that frankly seems inconceivable now : that of a slowly growing cult band steadily becoming more popular with each record, before ascending from being the world's biggest cult band to one of the world's biggest bands. Only U2 eclipsed them in the early 90's, which is now, surprisingly two decades ago, and it is now "Green"s twenty fifth anniversary. As a record, well, you either know it or you don't. A spiky, literate and aware record, the title hints at naivety, at political ecology, and in reference to a state of embryonic, unmoulded nature.
As with other REM reissues/remasters, the additional material is almost exclusively unheard : here it is a live show from the tail end of the 1988-89 world tour from Greensboro, where the band were a tightly coiled, flawless music machine on borderline insanity after a decade of furious, frenzied touring. Whilst recorded for the 1989 live VHS "Tourfilm", and parts of it may have made b-sides in the great age of the CD single, this is the first time the show has been released in its entirity. (Well, almost : an extra five songs from the show are also on the Record Store Day "Live At Greenboro" EP). The slow dripfeed of live shows may become problematic for "Out of Time", "Automatic For The People", and "New Adventures In Hifi" where the band did not tour - but at least, after many decades of a scarcity of official live material the band are emptying the vaults to provide new, but old, music. Nonetheless, there are also a dearth of official avenues for the multitude of b-sides from the singles spawned by the era - such as the heartbreakingly broken version of Syd Barrett's "Dark Globe", the acoustic version of "Pop Song 89" : no doubt these are being held back for another dose of consumer exploitation at some point in the future. On the other hand, "Green" follows the REM canon of slow and dignified reissues with a elegantly packaged revisiting. Does anybody need it? Probably not. But this is the way that reissues and remasters should be given to us, with care, and with thought.