When news broke late last month that alternative rock godfathers REM were calling it a day, nobody seemed surprised. The Athens, Georgia group seemed to have been merely treading water in their last days, releasing a bunch of records that were largely ignored by music fans and rock critics alike. Their last truly great album, "New Adventures In Hi-Fi" was released in 1996, then founding member Bill Berry called it quits in 1997, shortly before recording sessions for 1998's forgettable "Up" began in earnest. The downhill slide was slow and painful.
Later this month, REM will release the posthumous collection "Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982–2011". The first collection to span their entire recorded history, the two-disc set aims to restore their legacy as one of the last truly great American bands. It succeeds by being both comprehensive and delicately edited.
Starting with their first release, the 1982 EP "Chronic Town" and continuing through last year's "Collapse Into Now", every major milestone is covered. From the pulsing "Radio Free Europe" to the somber "Everybody Hurts", listening to the band's greatest triumphs (and more than a few epic missteps) in chronological order is mystifying. Placed on the same release as early highlights like "Gardening At Night" and "Driver 8", late period cuts like "Supernatural Superserious" and "Living Well Is The Best Revenge" shine in a way that they absolutely couldn't sandwiched between the half-hearted, half-baked ideas found on the album they were pulled from, 2008's "Accelerate".
Just about every song any casual fan is likely to be familiar with is included, like "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", "Losing My Religion", "Stand", "Man On The Moon" and even the godawful throwaway "Shiny Happy People", which is to be expected. For the uninitiated, though, some lesser known gems are the very heart of the record. Less heard tracks like "Talk About The Passion", "Finest Worksong" and the gorgeous, haunting "Country Feedback" lend the album a quiet dignity not often associated with career swan-song packages.
Of course, this wouldn't be a best-of record without a couple final "new" songs tacked onto the end. REM chose 3: “A Month of Saturdays, “We All Go Back To Where We Belong” and “Hallelujah”. While not their finest work by anyone's estimation, "Hallelujah" is the only standout among them. Lush strings fill the track with a sense of intense longing. The somber, searching lyrics are a testament to a band that accomplished more than any of them could have imagined and are now faced with creating new challenges for themselves, outside of the band that has been the center of their lives for the last 25 years.
"Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982–2011" will be released on November 15th via Capitol Records.