I.R.S. Records, 1988


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When R.E.M. left the small-label surroundings of I.R.S. for the greener pastures of a major-label deal late in the '80s, the immediate response from their former label was to capitalize on the success of their former client. Two records in quick succession - the best-of Eponymous and the b-sides collection Dead Letter Office - cropped up, ready for eager fans to snatch from the shelves.

It may have seemed strange for a band like R.E.M. to have a "greatest hits" album out when they really were just beginning to taste mainstream success in 1988. But what my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Eponymous does is more than just collect tracks from the band's stay at their former label; it provides the listener with a history of where the band came from and what they were about to become. If you didn't bother picking up albums like Life's Rich Pageant or Reckoning, then this is going to be an education for you. If you were one of the people who got into R.E.M. on the ground floor, this is a wonderful trip down memory lane.

One of the gems of this collection is the inclusion of the original version of "Radio Free Europe" that Michael Stipe and crew released on Hib-Tone, a small indie label, back in 1981. It's interesting to hear the birth cry of a band, and R.E.M. almost shows the listener that they're planning on being in the race for the long run with this one song. (For the longest time, I preferred the grittier emotion of this version to the studio-polished one on Murmur.)

If there's one word that could be used to describe the mood of Eponymous, it's this: fun. No, really. From the early days of songs like "Talk About The Passion" and "So. Central Rain" to the pre-superstar work from Document like "The One I Love" and "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", the selection of tracks make this sound less like a label trying to capitalize and more on rejoicing in the music they left behind.

True, there are one or two questionable inclusions here, such as the country-tinged "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" and the lost-genred "Romance". But even these songs show the quirky charms of R.E.M. and how they refused to let themselves be pigeonholed into any one category.

In a way, the R.E.M. that existed before 1990 was an entirely different band than the one we know today. While I'd still argue that Document is the must-own album of this portion of R.E.M.'s history, Eponymous is a delightful way to get acquainted with the group's early days - and is sure to spur you into checking out some of those albums.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of I.R.S. Records, and is used for informational purposes only.