The “Deluxe Edition” of R.E.M. records from their years at I.R.S. continues with the re-release of 1984’s Reckoning. The album itself has stood the test of time, and was crucial to the band’s continued success throughout the eighties into today. What if their record met the same critical and commercial outcome of The Stone Roses’ Second Coming? It’s possible we wouldn’t have had more R.E.M. to look forward to (for haters of the WB years, maybe that’s a blessing).
The remastering of the album merely punches up the music a little here and there. Most notable improvements (or changes) are Bill Berry’s drums in the opening track, “Harbourcoat”. Along with bassist Mike Mills, their instruments are featured more prominently. It isn’t that Berry and Mills were absent in prior releases, but the album sounds more balanced without sounding compressed. You can hear a chorus of Michael Stipe’s at the end of the breakdown in the track, “Pretty Persuasion”, and there is even a bonus instrumental track at the end of the album (it’s only about 30 seconds long, much like the hidden track at the end of “Camera”). Though Peter Buck’s guitar is still the driving force of the record, as it was for so many of the band’s greatest releases.
As for the songs themselves, most are excellent. “So. Central Rain” may still be the band’s most haunting number, while the one-two punch of “Second Guessing” and ”Letter Never Sent” make up for the one dud of the album (“Time After Time (AnnElise)”). The song “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” nowadays sees Mills taking lead vocal with a cowboy hat, while on the album Stipe’s original vocals still sound great on this country throwback before there was “Country Feedback”. Other songs such as “7 Chinese Bros.” and “Little America” have begun to find their way back into recent R.E.M. setlists after too many years away from the audience.
So why re-release Reckoning? For one, it has reached a milestone of 25 years. Two, said milestone usually sets off the bells and whistles in the minds of label heads. Fortunately for the fan, there are no “Greedo shot first” moments in the reissue. As an added bonus, the label was kind enough to offer a bonus disc not of previously compiled b-sides, but of a live show.
The final reason/excuse to release a “Deluxe Edition” comes in the form of a July 7, 1984 live broadcast on WXRT at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. The performance is found on disc two of this re-release, capturing R.E.M. shortly after the release of their sophomore release. Bootlegs of this show have been in circulation for years, but it’s nice to have a cleaned up version of the show.
“Cleaned up” is in reference to the removal of tape-hissing that can be found in various bootlegs of this Chicago performance. The mix is still all over the place, sometimes guitars being too high, sometimes Stipe’s vocals, but it’s in these imperfections that the deluxe edition succeeds. The listener really gets the feel of a band years away from arenas and superstardom, just playing to an audience of dedicated followers.
Most songs from Reckoning are played, as well as songs that would be found on albums in the future (“Driver 8” from Fables of the Reconstruction, “Hyena” from Lifes Rich Pageant). If “Windout” sounds familiar, maybe you heard it in a legendary Tom Hanks comedy. Three songs, mysteriously, are left off of the disc: the heretofore unreleased, “Cushy Tush”, and two covers in Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”, and The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”. Time isn’t an issue, so copyright reasons, perhaps?
Overall, a well-packaged re-release of one of the best albums the band has released. We can enjoy this while waiting for new work in the near (?) future.