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And I Feel Fine: The Best Of The IRS Years 1982-1987
EMI Records

They weren't really a new wave band. But they most certainly weren't not a new wave band, either. R.E.M. virtually defined a new genre in the early 1980's, along with their contemporaries like The Connells and The Feelies, the genre that came to be known as college rock. The sound was jangly and rich with an exuberant youthful energy, and no single band more embodied the sound than R.E.M. did in their earliest years. And I Feel Fine… collects a treasure trove of early R.E.M. songs, some that are instantly recognizable, as well as a few lesser-known tracks. But every track on this 2-disc collector's set is pure solid musical gold… you could buy the single disc, but why miss out on all that great music to save a couple of dollars?

Disc one collects mostly tracks that were more frequently heard on college radio, when that term still meant something. Michael Stipes' burgeoning musical conscience and oddly compelling vocals alongside Peter Buck's jangling rhythm guitar was a magical combination, only made better by the solidly rocking rhythm section provided by Mike Mills and Bill Berry. These songs are classics, and for those who have never ventured back beyond "Losing My Religion", this collection is a great place to begin your journey into what really made R.E.M. the band that they were to become once the major labels got a hold of them. Songs like "Radio Free Europe" were played a lot on radio, and still can be heard on great stations around the country, while even greater songs like "Driver 8" and the indomitable "7 Chinese Brothers" were the soundtracks to the confusion and elation of teenage life in the early 80's. The songs are still as great as they ever were, and it is a joy to hear them in this succinct collection.

Disc two is a deeper look into the early R.E.M. catalog. And while many of these tracks are listed as previously unreleased, they've all seen the light of day in collector's record collections. The original Hib-Tone version of "Radio Free Europe" is much fun to hear, possibly available here for the first time on an official CD release. Each band member got to pick one song, supposedly one of their favorite tracks, and Mike Mills' pick "Pilgrimage" is the kind of deep track that makes R.E. M. such a goldmine. The song is almost prog-rock in its approach, recalling Peter Gabriel and King Crimson more than anything that could be considered mainstream. There are a few live tracks that show the band at its most energetic and vibrant on stage, notably "1,000,000", which rocks as hard and insistently as any punk song ever could, but in a much cleaner fashion. The acoustic version of "Swan Swan Hummingbird" recorded live in hometown of Athens, GA, is almost country in its presentation, recalling the front porch of a ramshackle home more than a glossy studio. And for those who have never heard "King Of Birds", the time has come to find out where the wellspring of R.E.M.'s greatness began. Of course, no collection of the band's songs would be complete without the coolly weird cover of the coolly weird 60's track "Superman".

Whether you are an old hat and grew up with these tracks and get a flashback to your youth, or are discovering these gems for the first time, And I Feel Fine… is an amazing collection of songs that shows intimately the rise from garage band to college rock stars of one of the most arguably important rock acts of the last 3 decades. But this collection is also a tribute to the greatness of IRS records, without whom I shudder to think what may have become of the music industry post-post-punk. There is much greatness here. Check it out.

-Embo Blake

PS. Don't forget to check out the accompanying DVD collection When The Light Is Mine… it's filled with great live footage and interviews and other cool stuff to check out. Dig those crazy hairdos.

Track Listing:
Disc: 1
1. Begin The Begin
2. Radio Free Europe
3. Pretty Persuasion
4. Talk About The Passion
5. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville
6. Sitting Still
7. Gardening At Night
8. 7 Chinese Bros.
9. So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)
10. Driver 8
11. Can't Get There From Here
12. Finest Worksong
13. Feeling Gravity's Pull
14. I Believe
15. Life And How To Live It
16. Cuyahoga
17. The One I Love
18. Welcome To The Occupation
19. Fall On Me
20. Perfect Circle
21. It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Disc: 2
1. Pilgrimage (Mike's pick)
2. These Days (Bill's pick)
3. Gardening at Night(slower electric demo; previously unreleased)
4. Radio Free Europe (Hib-tone version)
5. Sitting Still (Hib-tone version)
6. Life and How to Live It (Live at the Muzik Centrum, Utrecht, Holland 9/14/87; previously unreleased)
7. Ages of You (Live at the Paradise, Boston 7/13/83; previously unreleased)
8. We Walk (Live at the Paradise, Boston 7/13/83; previously unreleased)
9. 1,000,000 (Live at the Paradise, Boston 7/13/83; previously unreleased)
10. Finest Worksong (other mix)
11. Hyena (demo) (previously unreleased)
12. Theme from Two Steps Onward (previously unreleased)
13. Superman
14. All the Right Friends (previously unreleased; later version released on Vanilla Sky soundtrack)
15. Mystery to Me (demo; previously unreleased)
16. Just A Touch (live in-studio version; previously unreleased)
17. Bad Day (session outtake; previously unreleased)
18. King of Birds (last song cut from the best of…)
19. Swan Swan H (live, acoustic from "Athens, GA-Inside Out")
20. Disturbance At The Heron House (Peter's pick)
21. Time After Time (annElise)(Michael's pick)

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