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CD Review: R.E.M.'s Reckoning (25th Anniversary Edition) 

The Deal: Classic second R.E.M. reissued with live show.

The Good: Writers toss around "timeless" like it's punctuation, but Reckoning warrants the tag. By pulling from so many different eras ('60s VU and Byrds, '70s Big Star and Television, contemporary '80s punk, classic country), the Athens Four transcended their own – and, blessedly, the tired tropes of Skynyrd/Allmans Southern Rock, too. Reckoning's nerve-jangling rockers stuck an electric current in Murmur's demure Gothicism (particularly the spazzy riffs of "Pretty Persuasion," "Little America" and "Second Guessing"), fueling the epileptic-marionette dances singer Michael Stipe performed live. Peter Buck fully indulged his McGuinn/Rickenbacker fixation here, too, while drummer Bill Berry mashed more like Bonham than Moe Tucker. But Mike Mills was the secret weapon: the re-mastering highlights his Richard Hell/Macca bass-blend that fundamentally altered, for instance, the country DNA of "So. Central Rain" and "Don't Go Back to Rockville." Meanwhile, his counterpoint harmonies allowed Stipe vast phrasing freedom, and their vocal interplay on "Harborcoat," "7 Chinese Brothers" and "Letter Never Sent" – Mills shadows Stipe on all three – sounded farm-fresh in an underground scene that typically discouraged anything melodic. This "deluxe" edition's extras consist only of a previously unreleased Chicago concert during the 1984 Little America tour. But it's an exciting reminder that before Stipe lost his religion and realized everybody hurts, R.E.M. could rock the fuck out of a room.

The Bad: Dead Letter Office emptied this era's extras-vault long ago, but why not throw 'em on here anyway?

The Verdict: The opposite of a sophomore slump.

Island/Virgin; Release date: June 23, 2009

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