Positive Feedback Logo

Late Period R.E.M. Albums from Craft Recordings on 180 gram LP

10-27-2023 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 129

As I mentioned in my last review of late-period R.E.M. releases from Craft Recordings, drummer Bill Berry's departure from the band changed the overall dynamic of R.E.M.'s music so much that I no longer found the group's new music as absolutely essential as in years past. I therefore had very little experience with post-Bill Berry R.E.M.; that changed when I recently reviewed Craft's reissues of Around The Sun (2004) and Collapse Into Now (2011), which gave me an entirely different perspective on those albums. You can read those reviews HERE, and now Craft has returned with new 180 gram reissues of two more long out-of-print LPs, 2001's Reveal and 2008's Accelerate.

With the release of Reveal and Accelerate, Craft Recordings closes in on completion of their reissue program for R.E.M.'s catalog of albums. Both reissue LPs were cut from the original master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, and were pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing. The LP reissues arrived in near-perfect replicas of the original tip-on jackets, with original artwork pulled from Concord Music's vault. Each LP was inserted into a white paper inner sleeve that's lined with rice paper, along with a printed paper insert that reproduces the song lyrics and technical information. Both Reveal and Accelerate can also be streamed digitally on most major platforms in 24-bit high resolution sound. 

My supplied review copies were pressed on black vinyl, but limited-quantity colored vinyl variants are also available for both albums at REMHQ. Reveal is available as a sky blue colored LP, while Accelerate is available as a black-and-white marbled LP. Even though the color variants of the LPs appear to be sold out at the webstore, they very likely are still available for purchase at your local independent record stores.

R.E.M., Reveal. 180 Gram Craft Recordings LP, $30.00 MSRP

2001's Reveal was R.E.M.'s 12th studio album and the second following drummer Bill Berry's retirement from the band. More upbeat in tone than its predecessor, Reveal offered heavier doses of R.E.M.'s classic sound when compared to 1998's Up, which had debuted to mixed critical response. The album received generally positive reviews, and was also viewed as a return to form for the band in stark contrast to the more electronically-hued sounds of Up. Reveal peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Album Charts, reaching gold album status in the US, but also sold well worldwide, especially in the UK, where the album reached number 1 on the UK Album Charts and achieved platinum sales status. The album's sales were driven by the success of the singles "Imitation Of Life," "All The Way To Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star)," and "I'll Take The Rain." Other notable album tracks included the poignant "Beat A Drum" and "Chorus And The Ring," along with the quirkily bossa-novaesque "Beachball."

Probably the strangest song on the album is "Disappear"; in an interview in the UK's New Musical Express (NME), Michael Stipe recounted how he and Thom Yorke of Radiohead were fast friends, and in the late 90s, Yorke had been fighting bouts of depression and stage fright. Stipe would tell Yorke that whenever he felt he was losing control emotionally to repeatedly recite this mantra: "I'm not here, this isn't happening." That phrase eventually became the chorus of Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely" from their 2000 album Kid A, and R.E.M.'s "Disappear" essentially recounts the story.

After receiving my review copy and taking a look at the song titles, I again was certain I hadn't previously heard any of this music, but after the needle dropped and I heard the songs "Imitation Of Life," "All The Way To Reno," and "Beat A Drum," I fully realized that I had indeed been exposed to this music upon its initial release. Despite being trumpeted by one critic as "A conscious return to their classic sound," Pitchfork's review noted that Reveal relies "more heavily on synthesized sounds than any of their past albums [with an] increased reliance on burbling, jittering synthesizers." And that comment is actually really accurate; Reveal rarely features the jangly guitar-driven pop of previous albums, and I noted the presence of seemingly spurious effects throughout the listening experience.

R.E.M., Accelerate. 180 Gram Craft Recordings LP, $30.00 MSRP

I definitely now see the band's 14th studio album, 2008's Accelerate, as a charged prelude to their swan song, 2011's Collapse Into Now. Which was undoubtedly R.E.M.'s strongest work in the aftermath of Bill Berry's departure, and Accelerate laid the groundwork for that seminal final album. Which could have been a dirge, but ended up being a celebration.

R.E.M. had been unhappy with their last album, 2004's Around The Sun, which was panned by the critics and was also a commercial flop. The band tasked Irish producer Jacknife Lee to take charge of Accelerate to move them and their music in a different direction. While the critics seemed to think that had happened with Reveal, Jacknife Lee's excellent production work on Accelerate and Collapse Into Now moved R.E.M. much closer to their classic sound than any of their records had in the previous decade. Lee pressed the band to pursue a stripped-down, more guitar driven sound in the recording sessions, and Accelerate expressed the "harder, faster" work ethic the band engaged during the album's production. R.E.M. contracted the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Ireland for five nights, and played working versions of the songs they'd prepared for the new album, and the experience of playing the songs live helped give the eventual studio versions a very "live" feel.

Accelerate instantly was heaped with critical praise, and it became the band's highest charting release since 1996's New Adventures In Hi-Fi. The album debuted at number 2 on the Billboard Album Charts in the US, and reached the number 1 position in the UK—which was the eighth time in R.E.M.'s career that they'd achieved that feat. And Accelerate went gold in both countries, as well as experiencing impressive album sales worldwide. Album sales were driven by the singles "Supernatural Superserious," "Hollow Man," and "Man-Sized Wreath." R.E.M. toured in support of the album, and the tour that extended throughout Europe, North America, and Latin America ended up being the band's final concert appearances. The "live performance" phase of the band definitely went out on a high note!

Craft's Level of Quality Remains High in the R.E.M. LP Reissue Program!

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 new Ortofon Quintet Bronze 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 my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier playing into a pair of KLH Model Five loudspeakers. The PrimaLuna offers the option of ultralinear or triode tube playback; while I listened with both to evaluate the effect, I eventually went with the more visceral and dynamic ultralinear mode for this often propulsive and powerful rock music. The KLH Model Fives provided a very convincing rock-and-roll aesthetic during playback of these excellent reissue LPs.

The black vinyl LPs I received for review featured exceptionally glossy surfaces, showed no scratches or other imperfections, and the pressings were perfectly flat. No noticeable groove modulation noise was present on either LP, and both were acceptably quiet during playback; the sound quality of each was exceptionally musical and dynamic. Culminating in an engaging listening experience, especially one where I had no real preconceived bias either for or against the music I was about to hear.

Both Reveal and Accelerate proved to me that I was totally wrong about late period R.E.M.—their music still did have something relevant to say—especially to me! Recommended.

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings