‘R.E.M. Live’ falls short

Rachel Abbey

REM LIVE R.E.M. Released by Jive Records Stater rating (out of five): 3.5

Credit: Ron Soltys

Every person has a band that works its way into his or her heart.

I’ll admit one of mine now: I am a huge R.E.M. fan. For me, they’re forever associated with blasting “Orange Crush” out the windows of my friend’s car on the last day of my senior year of high school. Its lyrics graced my instant messenger profile in a cliché manner for years, and who knows how many hours were wasted attempting to memorize, at the correct speed, the words to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.”

If you love R.E.M. like I do, you won’t love their latest release, R.E.M. Live.

That’s not to say it’s a bad recording, and the package itself is a deal — two CDs spanning 22 songs from their more than 25-year career, plus a DVD of those same songs recorded during a two-night set of shows from Dublin in 2005.

But a live recording lacks the polish of one done in a studio, and it can’t come near the heart-pounding, feel-the-rhythym-in-your-sternum energy of actually being at a concert. To be worth its while, a live recording needs to give the listener more: Extended or alternative versions of songs, rare releases, and artist commentary.

R.E.M. Live drops the ball on all counts. While it’s a good recording, featuring newer songs such as “Electron Blue” and “Boy in the Well” from 2004’s Around the Sun, as well as classics such as 1987’s “The One I Love,” it fails to go that extra mile. Some of the songs shine — the raw emotion of “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” comes through much stronger on this performance recording than on any cleaned-up studio copy — but many others flop.

At a show, listeners can usually buy Michael Stipe’s attempts to pump up the audience, but without being able to feed off the energy of the crowd, songs such as “I’m Gonna DJ” come off sounding forced and amateur. Bands need to overextend for the sake of a performance, but this rarely translates well to a recorded copy. Either the energy that soars in a stadium sounds weak in home-sized speakers, or the crowd overpowers the musicians you paid good money to hear.

On R.E.M. Live, the well-known hits, such as “Everybody Hurts,” tend to get lost in the crowd. When I listen to a R.E.M. album, I want to hear Stipe and company — not the crazed fan who insists on shrieking during the climax of “The One I Love.”

Diehard fans will appreciate this triple-disc set if for no other reason than to complete their collection. But new listeners should save their money and pick up a copy of Green from the used record store.

Contact editor Rachel Abbey at [email protected].