R.E.M. – Green – Deluxe Edition (review)

R.E.M. – Green (25th Anniversary Edition) (Rhino / Warner Bros) review

R.E.M.’s major-label debut gets the royal treatment – including a killer concert recorded on the subsequent tour

This is where R.E.M. really got serious.  Signing to Warner Brothers after five albums on the independent I.R.S. label, the guys had a lot to prove.  This wasn’t the time for the band to tread water.  Instead, everyone upped the ante and came up with Green, an album that managed to do the impossible – broaden their popularity, while keeping their loyal fan base happy as well.  The album has just been reissued in a new, deluxe edition, with some fine bonus material, including a 21-track live show from the tour.

The album opens with “Pop Song 89,” easily the most-accessible thing the band had ever recorded to that point.  The group’s playing is purposeful, and singer Michael Stipe really stretches his vocals, double-tracking both a high and low part to the song.  That’s followed by the funky “Get Up,” where bassist Mike Mills’s background vocals are way upfront.  The band even managed another hit single, in the goofy “Stand,” which features an uncharacteristic wah wah guitar solo from Peter Buck.

Green also marks the debut of the mandolin on an R.E.M. record – Buck spotted it in an music store and bought it on a whim.  It’s featured on several tracks, including one of their most sincere compositions to date, “You Are the Everything.”  It would also be prominently featured on their smash “Losing My Religion” on their next record.

Any longtime fan was shocked to open the jacket of Green and find actual song lyrics, something that had never happened on an R.E.M. record, albeit for just one song, “World Leader Pretend.”  Featuring some fine playing by cellist Jane Scarpantoni, the somber piece is one of the highlights of the album.  The disc closes with “Untitled,” which mixes things up a bit, by featuring guitarist Buck on drums, and drummer Bill Berry on guitar (confused yet?).

Green is R.E.M.’s biggest-sounding album.  Producer Scott Litt adds a level of gloss that had never been on one of their records before. Plus, they benefit from having a larger recording budget.  Examples like the music box on “Get Up” or the army and war sound effects on the blistering “Orange Crush” were things the band wouldn’t have been able to pull off on their independent records.

The real selling point of this new deluxe edition is the almost 80-minute concert recorded in Greensboro, NC late in the tour.  The band sounds surprisingly at home, despite making the jump from auditoriums to large arenas only recently.  Highlights include a stellar version of their recent hit “The One I Love,” and a beautiful take on the Mumur ballad “Perfect Circle” (although sadly omitted was “So. Central Rain”).  After several stints in America and overseas, the band by this point, was a well-oiled machine.

Also included is several black & white postcards of the band, and – gasp – a FULL size poster (just like the old days of vinyl!).  It’s folded a million times, but once you flatten it out, it really looks cool.

The world was definitely watching with the release of Green, and R.E.M. delivered.  It still permeates with that intensity, 25 years later. –Tony Peters