The calm before the world dominating storm

This is not the time or the place to be considering the merit of the 'Best Of' album as a product, that point can be argued another day, but what can't be avoided is that some are much more value for money than others.

The latter months of any year sees a flood of band compilations hitting record stores as the big Xmas cash in begins. Some bands, like in 2006 U2 for example, will take a load of their hits which have already appeared on previous greatest hits albums, stick on a new song or two and sit back to watch the royalty cheques role in. Others will bring out collections that are from certain stages of their career, compilations of live tracks, B-Sides or radio session performances which, could be argued, is of more benefit to the record buying public. 'The Best of the I.R.S Years' from R.E.M falls into the second group.

Truth be told, there has been a compilation of pre-world domination R.E.M material before, but I remember not even owning a CD player in 1991, and with much of this tracklist left off the band's recent hits CD, a revisit is more than welcome.

This is the perfect album for those of you who think this band's career started with 'Orange Crush' and 'Loosing My Religion'. R.E.M 'Best of the I.R.S Years', spans five years, featuring material from 1982's 'Chronic Town EP' and their debut LP 'Murmur', through to 1987's 'Document' which gave us the band's first really well-known classics 'The One I Love' and 'The End of the World As We Know It'.

I recently saw a load of R.E.M albums in a branch of the Fopp record store in Central London, sitting on a shelf labeled 'College Rock'. Although I'm not a hundred per cent certain what 'College Rock' is meant to sound like, listening to some of R.E.M's early singles does make me imagine a student union gig. Unlike the smooth and perfectly produced sound of their more recent work, there is a real raw edge and country rock feel to tracks like 'Begin The Begin' and 'Radio Free Europe', although both do show that even in the early and mid eighties, R.E.M had developed their distinctive sound which has stuck with them for over two decades. Softer numbers like 'Talk About the Passion' and 'So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)' shows that those who were on the ball at the time could have predicted how this band would progress to mega stardom.

Even though much of this body of work gets over looked in favour of singles from 'Green' onwards, there are some familiar classics to be found. Aside from the late eighties 'Document' cross over tracks, '(Don't Go Back To) Rocksville', which sees the band at their country rock best, is one which does receive airplay twenty plus years on from it's release.

It's worth saying that the band do often revisit early work when playing live and to be honest their fans are likely to own many of these songs already. With a vast number of songs, 'The Best of the I.R.S Years' does have a few which don't exactly light the fire of enthusiasm, however this CD is really one that will be perfect for you if you like what R.E.M have done post the nineteen eighties and fancy exploring the music which served as a springboard to them becoming one of the biggest rock acts on the planet.