R.E.M. Live At The Olympia In Dublin: 39 Songs(Warner Bros.) Buy it from Insound
Well, this is somewhat of a mammoth album. 39 songs stretching in at two and a half hours. If that isn’t enough, the concept itself is quite an odd one to take in; Michael Stipe’s first words are “This is not a show, This is not a show”. For those unaware of the format of the record, it is a public rehearsal that takes place over five nights in Dublin, debuting material from Accelerate before it came out as well as a big delve into their back catalogue. For anybody who wasn’t so impressed with 2007’s live offering R.E.M Live this is more likely to be for you, as the material is largely older and less commercial by quite a margin. Those looking for more conventional hits can look elsewhere - songs from Green, Out Of Time, Automatic For The People and Monster total a mere two.
Living Well Is The Best Revenge taken from Accelerate opens proceedings, with a sense of urgency and fervour that was ultimately lacking in the album itself, it feels almost ferocious and is a effective opener. The albums chugs along at a nice tempo until it hits Document’s Disturbance At The Heron House, which seems to take things up a welcome notch. Material from Accelerate is largely the focal point, with a splashing of everything else stemming from mostly the IRS years. Electrolite follows Cuyahoga, and both are quite gorgeous. Stipe’s voice really soars and lingers, still sounding ever youthful, dense and sodden in rich texture. This a refreshing reminder of the beauty R.E.M possess, perhaps most surprisingly is the previously unreleased number On The Fly, which is a dainty yet enchanting number and quite beautiful.
In all honesty the only moment where the first disc really stalls is on the quite god awful I’m Gonna DJ from Accelerate, which sounds like some regurgitated Stooges number (much like the lifeless version of Circus Envy) with lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pink song. Similarly, Horse To Water is also pretty turgid and uninspiring. Luckily, Sitting Still and Driver 8 before them sound so good that the damage isn’t irrevocable, just unnecessary. The disc ends on a stirring version of These Days, which is about as anthemic as the first side gets, its brutal, piercing drums lead quite vivaciously, while Stipe’s voice wraps and floats around Mike Mills’ backing vocals and is the first time that Stipe lets rip, his vocals becoming coarse and stretched as the song ends.
Drive opens the second disc, which as a whole is quite wonderful. Stipe slips up midway and forgets the lyrics, he stumbles and bumbles to get back in sync. It’s a genuine shame as it breaks the flow of what was a luscious journey. It is however, the first sign of a real slip up on the entire record, and is actually the first time you are reminded it’s a live rehearsal.
Feeling Gravity’s Pull is brutal, with guitars sounding like Bleach era Nirvana. It’s also fucking great, it does that wonderful job of maintaining balance between melody and noise throughout.
The second side dips quite heavily into debut EP Chronic Town and again touching rarely on anything post IRS. Wolves, Lower is a particular highlight, and Buck's guitar glides so smoothly, it’s almost a like being you are being dragged along with the ascending and spiralling guitar lines. R.E.M’s early post-punk undertones start to come out of the woodwork somewhat more on the second disc. It’s peculiar, as they seem to share equal sentiment to the scratchy, jagged Gang Of Four type guitar as they do to the melodic infusion of The Talking Heads, almost as if they were an amalgamation of new wave and post-punk at times, while still harbouring a pop forefront throughout. There are rousing versions of Pretty Persuasion and closer Gardening At Night before we come to the end of rather a long journey.
Despite its length the album never really drags, and is a constant joy to listen to. There are equal amounts of beauty and ferocity throughout the record, and the band exude a sound that makes them appear like they have something to prove, as if to themselves more than anything. In many senses it is the natural partner and the complete antithesis to their previous live album, as it really opens up the debate that R.E.M really are a band that you can split right down the middle. It would somewhat ignorant and simplistic of me to pin it down to being the fact that you either prefer the older stuff or the newer stuff, but these two releases feel like that is the option you are being presented with. One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked here is the flawless symmetry between band members; this is a band that know one another inside out and the music reflects this. It’s beyond tight musically. They have merged so much that the music simply feels like an extension of themselves, they just exude relentless comfort with their songs. Stipe’s voice for a man of nearly fifty still resonates a youthful, textured charm and has lost none of it’s beauty or at times effervescent delivery. It’s a bold, enchanting and captivating record that is of genuine interest to hear, as opposed to a long drawn out chore, which an album like this it could have so easily been.9 November, 2009 - 22:23 — Daniel Dylan Wray