In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 is R.E.M.'s second 'Best Of' album, released in October 2003. It follows 1988's Eponymous, which covered R.E.M.'s years on IRS Records. This album covers their career to date on Warner Brothers, comprised of the albums Green, Out of Time (notice the pun), Automatic for the People, Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Up, and Reveal. The album also contains two songs that were previously available only on film sountracks, and two songs that were newly recorded for this compilation.
The fourteen previously released songs were selected fairly evenly from the seven albums, with Out of Time and Monster giving up one slot each in favour of an additional track from Automatic for the People. The songs are sequenced in a very non-chronological fashion, which actually works out better than a strict chronological order.
The eighteen songs are:
- Man on the Moon (Automatic for the People):
In the liner notes, Peter Buck names this the quintessential R.E.M. song, making it an appropriate choice to begin the album. It is perhaps more representative of R.E.M.'s overall sound than the (slightly) more famous Losing My Religion.
- The Great Beyond (Man on the Moon Soundtrack):
The first of the 'new' songs on the album, The Great Beyond is, though written after Up and bearing many signs from that time, still very much in the spirit of Automatic for the People. From it's very Up-like beginning it develops the same mellow feel of Automatic during the chorus, with only a subtle synth background maintaining the taste of the newer material. It is definitely one of the better songs from the oft-maligned period of the band's history surrounding the release of Up.
- Bad Day (Newly recorded):
Bad Day, although newly recorded for this album, has existed in one form or another since 1986. This song mirrors The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) in its driving guitar sounds, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and the tone of its chorus, none of which is surprising considering that TEOTWAWKI was originally created as a refinement of the ideas in this song and borrowed several chord progressions from it. The end result sounds like End of the World taken apart and put together again, backwards and inside out. This song was released as a single and a (rather humourous) video made, featuring the members of the band as various personalities on a mock TV news broadcast.
- What's the Frequency Kenneth? (Monster)
The grungy opener from Monster is the only representative of that album found on this compilation, and rightfully so, as it's both the most prominent song on Monster and the one that most fits in with the rest of R.E.M.'s catalogue.
- All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star) (Reveal):
The first song on the album for which there'd have been better choices among the available material, this song doesn't seem worth including where Bittersweet Me and/or Bang and Blame are not. The sound is a little overproduced and 'thick' where a less full rendering may have been more appropriate.
- Losing My Religion (Out of Time)
A shoo-in for inclusion, this song was the song that launched R.E.M. into full stardom in 1991. The epitome of their post-End of the World, pre-Man on the Moon sound, it neatly sums up most of the band's achievements in the period between 1987 and 1992, in a catchy, alluring, classic form.
- E-Bow the Letter (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
This song, from R.E.M.'s varied album New Adventures in Hi-Fi, is an underappreciated classic. The mood of the song builds with the oddly distorted guitar sounds and Patti Smith's uncomplicated but expressive backing vocals. The main lyrics take the stream-of-conscious method that made The End of the World as We Know It famous, and make it laid-back and reflective.
- Orange Crush (Green)
One of the more well-known songs from R.E.M.'s major label debut Green, Orange Crush is a catchy little piece of political commentary. The meaning of the lyrics is rather obscure but is universally considered to be about the Vietnam War, 'Orange Crush' being a reference to Agent Orange. Definitely worth its inclusion.
- Imitation of Life (Reveal)
Recalling Losing My Religion in its sound, this somewhat aloof-sounding piece is R.E.M.'s most recent hit, and probably its poppiest single since the much-maligned Shiny Happy People. A logical choice to represent Reveal since it's the only song on that album of any significant renown.
- Daysleeper (Up)
The one song on Up which maintains a deep connection to the band's earlier sound, this is a dreamy, laid-back ballad with a rather waltz-like feel. Although (as the liner notes admit) this song is not very representative of Up's sound, it clearly shows the sort of sonic evolution occuring on the album and is well-suited to representing it on a compilation such as this.
- Animal (Newly recorded)
Unlike its partner Bad Day, Animal is a recent composition that, compared to the other 'new' songs on this album, falls a little flat. With the most incomprehensibly odd chorus in an R.E.M. single since Radio Free Europe, the lyrics still lend a strident and recognisable feel to the song. The music has a Middle Eastern edge that shows up in R.E.M.'s sound periodically, the result having a glam-rock finish reminiscent of Monster.
- The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (Automatic for the People)
The one silly song on Automatic, this song stuck out as strangely incongruous on its orignal album and does little better here. At the risk of downplaying one facet of R.E.M.'s personality in favour of others, I think this spot on the album would have been better filled with Drive or Country Feedback
- Stand (Green)
Silly and enthusiastically dumb, this song is probably the most famous single from Green. I don't object to its inclusion, but having it follow The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite seems to concentrate a little too much silliness in one part of the album.
- Electrolite (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
One of the piano ballads that tend to gravitate to the end of R.E.M. albums, the somewhat obscure-sounding lyrics and folky licks are a welcome change of pace from the plugged-in feel of the album.
- All the Right Friends (Vanilla Sky soundtrack)
A very old song, predating the formation of R.E.M., it was a concert mainstay in the first couple years of their career. Played in a style very reminiscent of their IRS albums, it is a straightforward, short, traditionalist rock song. An abrupt change of pace halfway through the song adds to its character, despite being the shortest track on the album.
- Everybody Hurts (Automatic for the People)
Perhaps the only rock song whose release has occasioned official praise from a U.S. state legislature, this is a song of hope directed specifically at those who feel they have none. A worthy classic, deserving of the displacement of a Country Feedback or Bittersweet Me to fit it in.
- At My Most Beautiful (Up)
Concieved as a tribute to the Beach Boys, this lush piano ballad may be the most directly romantic song in R.E.M.'s catalogue. The sense of familiarity permeating the song is effective and achingly immediate.
- Nightswimming (Automatic for the People)
King among R.E.M.'s piano ballads, its lucid imagery brings into focus a picture of longing with a slight tint of regret. Mere words cannot do the feel of the song justice.
As a compilation, In Time is marred by the tension between the denser material from Up and Reveal and the more open material from the earlier period. There are, as always, tracks which seem to not be worth the inclusion, and others that were not included which seem to fit, but this is a very subjective thing, and sometimes differs between the fans and the band (a strong example of this is Shiny Happy People). Recommended to those new to R.E.M., or those who have some of their albums and want to pick up the hits from the other albums without wanting to purchase the albums in their entirety.
A double-disc limited edition was also released, including a number of b-sides and alternate versions of songs from this period.
This writeup is copyright 2003 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .