The Best of R.E.M. at the BBC (Craft / Universal)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 7, 2018
As R.E.M. continues firing off 25th anniversary reissues, the absurdly massive 8-CD/1-DVD live box of the Athens, Ga., quartet in the UK drops like a bomb. Overkill? Probably. Impressive? Absolutely.
Most of the box comprises two concerts: 1995's Milton Keynes show just as the band hit its arena stride and their 1999 set at Glastonbury Festival. They capture Michael Stipe at peak frontman, confident even if by '99 the textures are stretching and it's the hushed moments ("Why Not Smile") that arrest the most.
More intriguing is the recording of their 1984 performance at Nottingham club Rock City, spewing raw energy on the heels of Reckoning as Mike Mills and Peter Buck bolster Stipe's muddied angst. "Talk About the Passion" and "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" sound wonderfully fresh and earnest, and even the train wreck of "Pretty Persuasion" is fantastically compelling.
Likewise, the final disc's 2004 broadcast from St. James Church stuns. Stipe's vocals ring in full control, spitting "So Fast, So Numb" and quietly introducing songs as the band broils well-honed bravado and rich layers ("I Wanted to Be Wrong," "Imitation of Life"). The undisputed highlight pivots on Radiohead's Thom Yorke joining in on "E-Bow the Letter," his unsettling moan quaking the chorus into another realm.
John Peel Sessions and a hodgepodge of radio appearances round out the set, up to 2008's disappointing denouement of "Supernatural Superserious" and Editors' cover "Munich" on Radio 1. Though repetition of "Losing My Religion" and "Man on the Moon" exhaust, there's a mighty pop to R.E.M. at the BBC.