REM, Dead Letter Office/Chronic Town

This rare bifurcated rating is because this "album" is, bluntly, a scam. I have to hand it to IRS for the brilliance of taking a steaming turd compilation album of steaming turds and combining it with a decent, if short and relatively inexpert, EP to simultaneously simplify their catalogue and use castoff tracks to pad it to LP length and charge more for it. So let's do the good stuff first: Chronic Town is a nice little album, unpretentious but solid, the prototype of their mumbly pre-Green janglepop in five generally tight tracks. Being an EP there isn't much of it, of course, and that's not to say there isn't room for improvement; for example, I prefer the more soulful Hib-Tone version of "Gardening At Night" (as found on Eponymous, a far better collection than this one) and the overall pacing is a little uneven (pro tip: go "Wolves, Lower," "Gardening At Night," "Carnival of Sorts," "1,000,000" and "Stumble," and then thank me later), but this album has enough quality moments and enough historical interest to be worth owning even by only the casual REM interest. That brings us to the rotgut. It's not (just) that the remaining tracks are bad, it's that they're (also) horribly underdeveloped. Some of them might even be decent if polished. They didn't polish them. The loony Pylon cover they lead off with ("Crazy") sets the tone: it's listenable, even vaguely danceable if you're stoned, but it's like it gave them permission to proudly produce three more execrable defilements, two of Velvet Underground and even a (gurgle) Aerosmith track. Of the rest some are variations on each other ("Ages Of You," probably the only other decent track, versus "Burning Down"), some are trial balloons they apparently just gave up on ("Wind Out," which somehow lives down to its name, "Burning Hell" with the kind of slightly perturbed harmonics suggesting they tuned up on barbituates, and "Rotary Ten") and some are absolutely inexplicable ("Voice of Harold," which uses the already inscrutable "Seven Chinese Brothers" as a backing as Michael Stipe sings — I kid you not — the liner notes of a schlocky gospel album to the melody). The prize bomb is "Walters Theme/King of the Road," which combines an actual drunken recording session, a local barbeque ad and the completely innocent and undeserving Roger Miller standard into an unmitigated auditory war crime. How do we know all this? Because Peter Buck apologizes for it in the liner notes. Yes. The band knew it was that bad, IRS knew it was that bad, and I still bought the album anyway because I lost my old cassette tape and this is the only way you can get Chronic Town on CD. So bravo, IRS. It's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I hope you burn in hell. (Content: I think there's a couple muffled curses in there. Please don't make me listen to this again to find out.)

Chronic Town: 🌟🌟🌟
Dead Letter Office: 🌟