R.E.M. creates gems; it’s what they do. Some of their stuff isn’t always up to snuff but they were the ones who set their own standards by which all of their works are judged. Beginning with the extraordinary IRS years that gave us classics on through to their Warner years, which generated hits and misses when you look at the overall content of each album, R.E.M. have never really failed to capture our interest.
Their Warner output, beginning with Green and ending with their last effort, In the Sun, is a package of emotions and introspection that have come to personify the band. They debuted Warner with Green, an album with a decidedly different musical perspective than any prior IRS release. Followed up with the harder-edged Monster, R.E.M. moved into a time frame of constant change. They achieved a greater critical acclaim for their Automatic For the People which yielded “Man on the Moon” and “Everybody Hurts”, songs that identify the band just as well as “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” from a different time.
Warner has taken the care to offer definitive upgrades to the already existing WB R.E.M. catalog by providing a double-disc package per title. In each of these sets are not only the full album version of each title, but also an included DVD-Audio version. The DVD-Audio versions provide 5.1 Surround remixes by Elliot Scheiner, known for his 5.1 remix work with such bands as Queen and Donald Fagen.
It’s not necessary to extol the greatness of R.E.M. material. Everyone knows the band and their works well enough to be quite subjective about their favorites titles by now. And there is a mix of opinion about every album produced by R.E.M. Regardless of the album preferred, there is no denying the enduring quality of almost every R.E.M. album released.
These Warner upgrades provide a nice gatefold (tri-fold) digipak with two separate trays carrying the individual discs (CD and DVDA.) In the center, the booklet is housed in a slip that details the credits on the outside. Each album’s DVDA disc comes with extras as well as the 5.1 remix and which includes videos, photo galleries, lyrics, etc.
For this review, we listened to R.E.M.’s Up (1998) and New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996.) The DVD-Audio disc will make DVD-Audio fans feel right at home as they employ on-screen menus that allow you to select 5.1 Audio or 2.0 Stereo, both in Advanced Resolution. Both provide selectable discographies that scan through the entire R.E.M. catalogue, both IRS and WB periods. The cool thing here is that you can select an album and get a screen that details the songs as well as providing a cover shot. Nice touch. The videographies are found in the same way.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi’s DVDA portion offers an off-beat look at R.E.M. during this period in an included promotional film. The audio found on this specialized disc offer 5.1 or 2.0 in DVD-Audio hi-rez. The same is found on the band’s first album without Berry, the 1998 release, UP. The documentary located on UP is a bonus video shot during the recording of UP. A nice feature is that, on the two DVDAs that we reviewed, the menus are unique to the album thus providing a feel of continuity and completeness; as if the 2 discs were meant to be together. This is a plus to collectors who want a complete and definitive package. On New Adventures in Hi-Fi, there is a decidedly electric and cold look to the menuing processes that accent the package while UP’s definite pop-art work is replicated in the menus that also utilizes animation (there is no animation in New Adventures.) I haven’t seen the other releases but if these reviewed titles are an indication of what the others employ in its presentation of R.E.M.’s WB catalogue, then Rhino/WB has succeeded in winning the hearts of fans who will be completely happy with the collection.
The Stereo versions were crisp, clear, and defining while the 5.1 mixes by Elliott Scheiner were as strong. I’ve never been a huge fan of 5.1 mixes of music where the work doesn’t really beg for it but there are moments in these mixes that truly enhance the song. As in most Surround works, the musical merry go round is designed by the engineer and may not be truly representative of what the band had in mind when they originally recorded the music, if they had a surround mix in their mind to begin with. Regardless, the 5.1 mixes found on these two discs were immersive and enjoyable. R.E.M. is one of those bands who, later in their career, smack dab in the time that these reviewed discs were recorded, they used sounds that could be enhanced by surround. Fans of surround mixes will not be disappointed by these, and I suspect, the rest of the catalogue. I’ll say this, however; I loved the Stereo upgrades.
R.E.M. has had a long and satisfying career, have weaved style changes throughout, and have spoken to several generations of music lovers. Their politics and philosophical beliefs and concerns have entrancingly intrigued listeners for years. R.E.M. was the voice crying in the wilderness for many years and, for many years, we sat up and listened. Stipe’s concern for humanity is evidenced in much of his lyrical output as is Buck and the rest of the band.
These reworks are extraordinary and belong in any fan’s collection especially given the attention to detail and the added bonus of video, discographies, lyrics, photos, and hi-rez versions of their songs. For my money, DoubleDiscs are the nukes that blow DualDiscs into oblivion. Let’s hope that the rest of R.E.M.’s catalogue is afforded the same treatment. Then, we could all live happily ever after.