And I Feel Fine…The Best Of The I.R.S. Years 1982-1987

R.E.M.

EMI, 2006

http://www.remhq.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/06/2012

It took almost two decades for some genius to realize that nobody had ever properly compiled R.E.M.’s glory days of the ’80s. These were the years that the band ruled college radio and campuses, where they would play to clubs of 500 people, where they were the biggest and hippest underground band in the country…the days when they were the alternative movement, when that term actually meant something.

Enter And I Feel Fine, as close to perfect a compilation as you can get without making one yourself.

R.E.M.’s first five albums and one EP were released on the tiny I.R.S. record label, so this collection simply picks the best of those six releases, drawing equally from each one. More so than most bands, R.E.M. grew artistically with each release, and so all of these albums (Murmur, Reckoning, Fables Of The Reconstruction, Lifes Rich Pageant, Document, and the Chronic Town EP) have their own sound, style and feel. If you like the three or four songs sampled from each one, you are strongly encouraged to check out the rest of that record.

All of what should be here is here, with a few album cuts thrown in to round out the picture. You get the first real single, “Radio Free Europe,” and a few other songs from Murmur, which is a flawed but fascinating listen all these years later. Reckoning is best represented by “So. Central Rain” and “Pretty Persuasion,” while the moody nbtc__dv_250 Fables offering “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is a psychedelic work of art representative of the disc as a whole.

Lifes Rich Pageant and Document were more arena-rock records with a jangle pop folk twist, but some of R.E.M.’s best music is contained here, especially “Begin The Begin” and “Fall On Me” from the former and “Finest Worksong” from the latter (obviously, the major hits “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” are present, too).

Hearing all of this quality music makes one really appreciate what the quartet from Athens, Georgia was trying to do. A keen intelligence and devotion to craft crates a rich vein throughout these 21 songs; not once does singer Michael Stipe resort to clichés or pandering, and the lo-fi sound (at least in the earlier songs) is ultimately original, with only The Byrds as any kind of comparison. Yet the band remained close with its audience. Instead of upper-middle-class art school dropouts or fame-seeking media whores, R.E.M. members were college dropouts who lived together in an abandoned church and championed their fellow underground bands (even as they were eventually ostracized by the Athens art community once popularity set in).

So that’s the single disc. A double-disc set also exists, which is well worth seeking out (unless you’re not yet a fan, in which case you may want to test drive the single disc first). The second disc appeals to fans of all stripes, and here’s why; the early favorite “Ages Of You” makes an appearance, solid live versions of “1,000,000” and “We Walk” showcase the stage sound, and early versions of “Bad Day” and “All the Right Friends” show up. Collectors will appreciate the band’s first single on Hib-Tone records, “Radio Free Europe” backed with “Sitting Still,” both of which are subtly different from the better-known Murmur versions.

Fans will appreciate that the band provides detailed liner notes to the songs on this disc and each member gets to pick a favorite album track. Of these, “These Days” from Lifes Rich Pageant is far and away the best. Even the underground radio favorite “Superman” from that same album makes an appearance on this second disc.

About the only thing missing is “Romance,” which appeared on Eponymous, the first release to attempt to catalog these formative years before the band became global superstars. Nothing is present from Dead Letter Office either; although nothing there is essential, it completes the story with B-sides and rarities and tacks on the whole Chronic Town EP to finish the story.

Still, you cannot do better than And I Feel Fine. Your life will be better after hearing it.

Rating: A

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