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Long Out-of-Print R.E.M. Albums Now Available on 180 gram LPs from Craft Recordings

07-22-2023 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 128

I grew up about thirty minutes outside of Athens, Georgia, where I was a college student in the late 70s. And was very much in touch with Athens' burgeoning music scene, which included bands like the B-52's, Pylon, and Love Tractor. At the time of R.E.M.'s appearance on the scene, when "Radio Free Europe" was blasting over the airwaves everywhere, everyone around me had a sense that the band was on the cusp of breaking it big nationally. That soon proved to be the case; R.E.M.'s early-to-mid period live shows were incredibly exciting, and their albums were absolutely essential. The group consisted of Michael Stipe on vocals, Peter Buck on guitars, Mike Mills on bass, and Bill Berry on drums, and they all shared much of the band's songwriting and arrangements. The musical input from each member of R.E.M. seemed crucial to the band's musical vision and artistic and commercial success, which they achieved in spades through the mid-90s.

Then drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm onstage in 1995, and despite having made a miraculous recovery, he decided to retire from the band following 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi. At that point, I basically lost interest in the band: Bill Berry was the spark plug that energized R.E.M., and his absence to me seemed as though it would cripple them. I found it not at all unlike Led Zeppelin, following the untimely death of drummer John Bonham: I just didn't see how things could go on with R.E.M. Besides, I was already gravitating towards no longer listening to any kind of commercial radio programming either on the job, at home, or in my car. A few years afterwards, when we entered the 2000s, my car stereos started featuring USB inputs; I could program a gazillion MP3s on a flash drive and never looked back with my listening choices. I simply lost touch with any new music from R.E.M., who went on as a trio, never attempting to replace the irreplaceable Bill Berry. 

Craft Recordings has over the last several years been in the process of re-issuing all of R.E.M.'s catalog of albums, and they're approaching the finish line with 180 gram LP releases of Around The Sun (2004) and Collapse Into Now (2011). Both of these reissue albums were cut from the original master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, and the LPs were pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing. The LP reissues are being shipped in near-perfect replicas of the original tip-on jackets, and artwork was pulled from Concord Music's extensive vault. The double LP Around The Sun featured a gatefold style jacket and printed paper inner sleeves with the song lyrics; as is my customary practice, I inserted MoFi-style rice paper sleeves into the paper inner sleeves to reduce static build-up and prevent paper dust. Collapse Into Now featured a white paper inner sleeve that was thankfully already lined with rice paper, which was a very nice touch! And there was also a printed insert in the sleeve that featured the song lyrics and album credits. Both releases can also be streamed digiatlly on most major platforms in 24-bit sound. 

My supplied review copies were pressed on black vinyl, but limited-quantity colored vinyl variants are available for both at REMHQ. Around The Sun is available as a pair of opaque white LPs, while Collapse Into Now is available as a translucent milky-white LP. Surprisingly, the colored-vinyl variants are priced the same as the black versions. All color versions for this LP release (including the black LPs) appear to be already sold out online, but I've seen the LPs available for purchase at local independent record stores here in Charleston. So it's only logical that they can be found at indie record stores everywhere.


R.E.M., Around The Sun. (2) 180 Gram Craft Recordings LPs, $38.00 MSRP

R.E.M.'s catalog of releases as a trio were met with mixed success artistically as well as commercially; suddenly, each album release didn't receive the kind of acclaim they'd grown to expect. And sales fell below the million mark for both 1998's Up and 2001's Reveal, though the band had begun by then to sell better in the UK versus the American market. R.E.M.'s 13th studio album, 2004's Around The Sun didn't reverse that trend; it became the band's first studio album to not reach the Billboard Top 10, selling only around 230,000 units in the US. Regardless, the album still sold well worldwide, especially in the UK, where the album's lead single, "Leaving New York" was a Top 5 hit for the band. The album also generated the singles "Aftermath," "Electron Blue," and "Wanderlust," all which failed to generate a spark in the US charts, but were still hits in the UK. When questioned by the media regarding the album's commercial and critical failings, both Peter Buck and Michael Stipe responded that the band either sounded "bored with itself" or "had lost its focus." 

Not having heard Around The Sun prior to receiving my review copy, I was immediately struck by two things: 1) I actually found it to be a more enjoyable listen than I might logically have expected, even though, 2) it didn't sound anything like R.E.M.'s classic music to me, at all. The music is heavy on synths and keyboards, and is absent of much in terms of Peter Buck's excellent guitar work—and of course, I really missed Bill Berry's propulsive drumming style. There wasn't much there, though, that needed to be propelled, and there was a certain "sameness" to many of the songs; most of them were very ballad-oriented. Around The Sun lacked the usually eclectic mish-mash of musical styles, quirky songs, and guest performances that were the hallmark of most R.E.M. albums prior to the band becoming a trio. Despite those shortcomings, I still found the album entertaining and enjoyable.

I have a particular affinity for R.E.M.'s 1991 classic Out Of Time, and it's in regular rotation in my in-home and in-car playback. That said, I don't really listen to a ton of R.E.M. in my current reality, but with regard to my ability to enjoy Around The Sun, my listening habits didn't necessarily color my expectations for the album. And even though many of the songs are similar in character, I still found it to be exceptionally listenable. I sat at my chair in the analog room expecting to skim through the album's 13 tracks, but ended up listening to the entire record several times. I think the album has fared much better than the critics or even band members have given it credit for. I liked it so much, I may actually attempt to track down one of the opaque white vinyl versions (I've got a thing for white vinyl)!


R.E.M., Collapse Into Now. 180 Gram Craft Recordings LP, $30.00 MSRP

The band's 15th and final studio album, 2011's Collapse Into Now, struck an entirely different chord with me. Right out of the gate, I actually loved it, and found it to have a greater continuity in line with the band's Bill Berry-era releases: Collapse Into Now is undoubtedly R.E.M.'s strongest work in the aftermath of Berry's departure. Coming seven years on the heels of Around The Sun, R.E.M. could have easily phoned in the recording that proved to be their swan song, but they obviously pulled out all the stops for their best album in fifteen years!

The songs on Collapse Into Now offer an interesting and eclectic mix; from Peter Buck's first guitar notes on the opening track, the pounding, driving "Discoverer," you know that R.E.M. learned from the mistakes they made on Around The Sun. Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) contributes vocals to "It Happened Today," and Lenny Kaye, best known as Patti Smith's lead guitarist, provides the outstanding guitar solo on the raucous "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter," while Canadian alt-rocker Peaches screams the accompanying vocal. The album's closer, "Blue," is maybe the most whacked-out R.E.M. tune ever, hearkening back to the Out Of Time period, and featuring the dueling fuzzed-out guitars of Peter Buck and Lenny Kaye. A stream-of-consciousness rant from Michael Stipe is melded into the proceedings, while none other than Patti Smith wails in the background. Listening to Collapse Into Now was definitely a blast from the past!

As strong as Collapse Into Now was, I'm pretty sure R.E.M. fans were shocked to find out that it was the end of the line for the band. The album fared well commercially in terms of R.E.M.'s trio output, actually reaching No. 5 on the US and UK Billboard charts, and No. 1 on the US Top Rock Albums chart. All in all, a fitting summation for a band who'd broken so very much new ground throughout their career.

[Photo by Anton Corbjin]

Once again, Craft Recordings does a great job with their LP reissues!

Clicking my name in the header reveals the equipment I used to evaluate both R.E.M. reissue LPs. For this review, I used my mostly analog system that features the ProJect Classic EVO turntable that's mounted with a Hana SL moving coil cartridge. It plays through a Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+ with its dedicated Michael Yee linear power supply; the signal is then fed to a PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier playing into a pair of KLH Model Five loudspeakers. This modern, but very vintage-sounding analog system offered superb playback of these excellent reissue LPs.

My black vinyl review copies featured glossy surfaces, showed no surface imperfections, and the pressings were perfectly flat. And there was no noticeable groove modulation noise present during playback, even though both LPs from Around The Sun were peppered with paper dust from their paper inner sleeves. My usual pre-playback routine involves using a specialized pick-up roller and a carbon-fiber cleaning brush, and that cleaned the LPs up nicely. I've generally never run into any issues with LPs sourced from Memphis Record Pressing, and both albums were typical of my past experiences. Both LPs displayed an acceptable level of quiet during playback, and the sound quality of each was exceptionally musical and dynamic. 

While I have to admit almost complete ignorance with regard to both of these late-period R.E.M. albums, I found each of them to be an enjoyable listen. Especially Collapse Into Now, which despite being the group's final effort as a band, featured many of the hallmarks that made R.E.M. albums so very essential back in the day. Highly recommended!

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings