Like similar collections by Guns ‘N’ Roses [Appetite For Destruction: Deluxe Edition] and Pink Floyd [The Early Years 1967–1972: Cre/ation], R.E.M.’s The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC (CD, vinyl) is a two-disc sampler from a much larger boxed set, the 8CD/1DVD R.E.M. At The BBC (CD, digital) [my review of which is here]. But while there’s a lot of good music on R.E.M.’s Best Of collection, it’s hard to recommend when the vastly superior complete collection is so readily available.
Recorded at various dates from 1984 through 2008,
The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC features thirty-four live tracks recorded both in the BBC’s studios and at concert venues during shows open to the public. In addition, while a bunch of the songs are played on the band’s normal, electric instruments, and in front of an appreciative audience, a bunch of these songs were played acoustically, or in a studio with few in attendance.
Now, as is, there are a lot of great songs on The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC. For starters, the acoustic versions of “World Leader Pretend” (from a 1991 radio show), “Supernatural Superserious” (from a 2008 radio session), and especially “Radio Song” (also from the 1991 show) all put an interesting stripped-down spin on these songs.
As for the more amplified tunes on The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC, the highlights there include a beautiful rendition of “Perfect Circle” from a 1998 radio show, a similarly haunting version of “Country Feedback” from a 1998 studio session, a blistering take on “Orange Crush” from a 2003 radio show, and all of the tracks from concerts recorded in 1984, 1995, and 1999.
What’s odd is that there are also some rather clunky performances on The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC. “Bad Day” from the same 2003 radio session as the aforementioned “Orange Crush” is slightly off, while the acoustic versions of “Losing My Religion” and “Half A World Away” are less spirited than the ones on R.E.M. Unplugged 1991-2001 The Complete Sessions.
But the biggest issue I had with The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC is that it just made me want R.E.M. At The BBC that much more. Listening to the five tracks from their 1984 show made me want the complete sixteen song show, and the same goes for the six tunes from their 1995 show (which has all twenty-five on R.E.M. At The BBC) and the two from the 1998 concert (all twelve of which are included on R.E.M. At The BBC). Doubly so since R.E.M. have not released live albums from 1995 or 1998, while the 1984 concert included on the deluxe version of Reckoning was incomplete.
(The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC …
also has three songs from a 2004 concert, while R.E.M. At The BBChas all eleven they played that night, but that show is outdone by the twenty-three song one on the live video Perfect Square).
It also doesn’t help that all of the acoustic performances on The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBCare of songs they also played during the Unplugged shows, which are already available — and, as noted, in some cases better — on R.E.M. Unplugged 1991-2001 The Complete Sessions. Though you could say the same thing about R.E.M. At The BBC.
What makes The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC even less worth getting, even for more casual fans, is that it doesn’t even have all of the songs that they might like. Specifically, it doesn’t include the band’s acoustic cover of the Editors’ song “Munich,” which is this collection’s only truly new tune.
That said, The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC does include the version of “E-Bow The Letter” from 2004 that features Radiohead’s Thom York doing the part Patti Smith sang on the original, which is good for serious Radiohead fans, since it means they won’t have to buy the whole R.E.M. At The BBC set just for one song.
In the end,
The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC is a solid collection of live performances from a band who were almost always great live…but it’s also a sampler that will make most just want the more complete version.