In my recent review of R.E.M.’s The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC [which you can read here], I explained that while that two-disc compilation had some good songs on it, it really just made me want the all-inclusive boxed set from which it was culled, R.E.M. At The BBC (CD, digital), a seven CD, one DVD collection that presents everything the band ever recorded for BBC radio and TV. But as with any big, multi-disc collection, the question is always how big of a fan of the band do you have to be to make this worth your while.
For hardcore collectors…
only interested in totally new songs or notably different alternate takes, R.E.M. At The BBC has only three tunes worth keeping: an acoustic version of “Supernatural Superserious,” a haunting cover of the Editors’ song “Munich,” and a live version of “E-Bow The Letter” with Radiohead’s Thom York proving the vocals that Patti Smith handled on the original. All three are quite good, but whether they’re worth the price of admission really depends on your financial situation and what you’re interested in (especially since these versions of “Supernatural Superserious” and “E-Bow The Letter” are also on The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC).
There are also a bunch of other acoustic tracks on R.E.M. At The BBC, but aside from the aforementioned “Supernatural Superserious” and “Munich,” all are songs they also played at the shows included in R.E.M. Unplugged 1991-2001 The Complete Sessions. And since there are dozens of songs on Unplugged that aren’t on R.E.M. At The BBC, and the versions of “Losing My Religion” and “Half A World Away” on BBC aren’t as good as the ones in Unplugged, this box isn’t worth getting for those tunes.
Instead, R.E.M. At The BBC is best bought by those who want uncut live concerts. The 1995 show from Milton Keynes is a great big rock show that not only includes fiery versions of “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, “Finest Worksong,” and others, but it also has them tearing through early versions of the New Adventures In Hi-Fi songs “Undertow,” “Departure,” and that album’s outtake “Revolution.” Though it is a bummer that they didn’t (or couldn’t) edit out the DJ who came in just slightly too early at the end of “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
R.E.M. At The BBC also has a great live show from 1999’s Glastonbury Festival. Though dominated by such mid-era tunes as “Lotus,” “Daysleeper,” and “Crush With Eyeliner,” it does find them going back to Lifes Rich Pageant for a great and unexpected run through “Cuyahoga.” And while it’s not as great a show as the one from Milton Keynes, for a concert recorded on the Up tour, it is a good one. Especially when compared to the rather stifled one from the TV show Later…With Jools Holland that’s included on the Blu-ray of R.E.M. At The BBC.
But the highlight,
as far as the full shows on R.E.M. At The BBC are concerned, is the 1984 show from Nottingham. Doubly so given that the live show included in deluxe edition of Reckoning, also from 1984, is incomplete. Kicking off strong with “Second Guessing,” this has them tearing through such favorites as “Radio Free Europe,” “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” and So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” as well as an early version of “Hyena” two years before they recorded it for Lifes Rich Pageant.
Oh, and for those wondering — as I would be — the “Hey Diddle Diddle” that comes between “9-9” and “Feeling Gravitys Pull” is just singer Michaael Stipe mumbling while drummer Bill Berry keeps the beat going, and is not worth buying R.E.M. At The BBC just to get.
Similarly, I’d also pass on R.E.M. At The BBC if your sole motivation is for the fourth whole show, which comes from 2004. While it does have the aforementioned Thom York-augmented take on “E-Bow The Letter,” this rest of the concert pales in comparison to the far long and much better one on the band’s live video Perfect Square.
As for the DVD included in R.E.M. At The BBC, the highlight of it is them playing “Moon River” and “Pretty Persuasion” in 1984, and the end of the 1998 show they played on the aforementioned Later…With Jools Holland show when they finally shook off the cobwebs and tore their way through Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.” Though, again, with the former (and many other great songs) being on the massive digital collection Complete Rarities: I.R.S. 1982-1987, and the latter included on Complete Rarities: 1988-2011, it’s not worth buying R.E.M. At The BBC just for those tracks.
It’s also worth noting that if, like me, you’re a hardcore R.E.M. head who already has these tracks — they were, after all, broadcast on the radio and TV where anyone could record them — the versions on R.E.M. At The BBC sound notably better. This is especially true of the 1995 show, which has been circulating for years but in a very low-grade way.
In the end,
R.E.M. At The BBC is a far better collection than the sampler, The Best Of R.E.M. At The BBC, and an absolute must for any fan of the band who’d like to hear or (if they were lucky enough) relive the times they saw them live. Sure, not everything here is worth keeping, but with a couple great and, more importantly, complete live shows and a handful of cool new-ish tunes, this is a solid investment for any serious R.E.M. fan.