R.E.M. – Green: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (2013)

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If 1987’s Document heralded the moment when R.E.M. started to get away from us, the follow up Green confirmed things: This wasn’t going to be our little secret anymore.

Still, for all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the college-radio hipsters (ahem!), Green was really more of a bridge between the two worlds than a destination. Sure, tracks like “Pop Song 89” and “Stand” received airplay on the big-stick stations, but the real supernova moment for R.E.M. was, of course, still to come.

For now, at least, those moments were tucked in with songs that still hearkened back to the smaller, more personal albums that had made them underground darlings in the first place: Tracks “World Leader Pretend” (filled, then as now, with this devastating lonesomeness), “The Wrong Child” (with its layered idiosyncracies) and “Remember California” (still such a gnarled moment of portent) could have fit in snugly with any of their celebrated I.R.S. efforts.

If there’s a complaint to be made about the album, lo these 25 years later, it’s not that they “sold out,” per se — because even chart-ready confections like “Stand” retain some of the band’s oddball sensibilities. (Check out that wah wah!) It’s that there are so many things going on, beyond the pop hits and the now-familiar jangly, mumbly hagiography of R.E.M., that Green never comes together into a cohesive whole.

Sprinkled in between are “Get Up,” “Orange Crush” and “Turn You Inside Out,” present as a flinty new direction for the group, which heretofore had never sounded so steely, propulsive, dangerous. Meanwhile, there’s “You Are The Everything,” “Hairshirt” and the untitled 11th track — each of which explores deeply emotional, intriguingly pastoral landscapes.

Taken together, it’s difficult to piece together a cohesive statement of any kind — about where R.E.M. was as a band, or even where they were headed.

This new deluxe anniversary edition (due May 14, 2013 from Rhino) underscores a larger truth about Green, through, when it offers a concert-length examination of their 1989 show at Greensboro: Dominated, as that tour was, by new material — seven of the 21 songs are from Green — we get a chance once more to examine how they fit in next to older favorites like “Cuyahoga,” “Fall On Me” and “Begin the Begin.” And they more than hold their own, proof that even if Green wasn’t the best album R.E.M. ever put out, it certainly featured some of their most durable individual songs.

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