R.E.M. The Complete Unplugged Sessions 1991-2001
Now in their third year of retirement, and six years since their last live show, R.E.M. As was, are slowly moving from a band that was real to a band that isn't. All that remains are the recordings, the films, the vinyl, the memories. For a band that, in the 90's, took two extended gaps from touring (of six years and four years, respectively), R.E.M. Seemed to wear themselves out after a frantic decade of 1999-2008 that saw them traverse the planet five times and play every year in support of four albums. Though this – their third official live album, alongside the nine concert DVD's and the limited edition “Live '92” cassette – sees the beginning of saturation coverage of their on stage personality, unlike other records of theirs, “Unplugged” sees the release for the first time, the bands full acoustic MTV sessions from 1991 and 2001. Two lineups, two bands, one name. With barely one song repeated across the sets ; “Losing My Religion”, this features the band at two points : one on the cusp of enormity, a band taking a step back from the glare of attention and scrutiny, and the other in 2001, the R.E.M. trio with two extra guitarists and a new drummer. 2001 R.E.M sees the band as a post-fame entity, existing the rarified atmosphere of megasuccess with only a handful of contemporaries at that time, beyond such trivial concerns as money, hits, success, able to exist as a self-contained artistic entity capable of working entirely in their own world. Not that this necessarily shows ; audibly, there is little difference between the two bands, though Stipe's voice has aged mildly, all other things seem untouched. Both bands and both sets dip deep into the bands body of work, pulling out deep album cuts from across their history ; 2001's set particularly interests, seeing the somewhat anodyne and limp cuts from the “Reveal” album as acoustic gems when stripped of their electronic bleepybloop and lifeless death-by-1,000-mixes studio incarnations. Both sets lack a sense of shape, for example, the 1991 set finishes with “World Leader Pretend”, whilst 2001 climaxes – though that is not the word – on five then-very-recent album tracks, including as the last song, the adequate “Sad Professor”. In their acoustic forms, these newer songs sparkle in a way their studio counterparts often don't, but 14 years after the event with no reason for their release, “Unplugged” is a good but pointless R.E.M release.