The Deluxe Edition of R.E.M. records from their years at I.R.S. continues with the re-release of 1984s Reckoning. The album itself has stood the test of time, and was crucial to the bands continued success throughout the eighties into today. What if their record met the same critical and commercial outcome of The Stone Roses Second Coming? Its possible we wouldnt have had more R.E.M. to look forward to (for haters of the WB years, maybe thats a blessing).
The remastering of the album merely punches up the music a little here and there. Most notable improvements (or changes) are Bill Berrys drums in the opening track, Harbourcoat. Along with bassist Mike Mills, their instruments are featured more prominently. It isnt 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 (its only about 30 seconds long, much like the hidden track at the end of Camera). Though Peter Bucks guitar is still the driving force of the record, as it was for so many of the bands greatest releases.
As for the songs themselves, most are excellent. So. Central Rain may still be the bands 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 (Dont Go Back To) Rockville nowadays sees Mills taking lead vocal with a cowboy hat, while on the album Stipes 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 Chicagos 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 its 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 Stipes vocals, but its 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 Millers King of the Road, and The Ventures Walk Dont Run. Time isnt 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.