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R.E.M.: The essential albums

Greg Kot

5:10 PM CDT, September 21, 2011

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On the day of R.E.M.'s break-up, a quick guide to the group's essential albums:

“Murmur” (1983): Jangly, enigmatic songs that together create their own world from first note to last, punctuated by the landmark single “Radio Free Europe.”

“Reckoning” (1984): Nearly as good as the debut if not quite as iconic, with one of the band’s first brushes with widespread acceptance in “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry).”

“Fables of the Reconstruction” (1985): Murky road songs with a manic, wired edge.

“Lifes Rich Pageant” (1986): A harder-edged, cleaner sound with more explicit songs than ever.

“Document” (1987): Peter Buck once claimed Side 1 is his favorite R.E.M. album side ever, and it’s hard to disagree. It’s balanced by the more esoteric bent of Side 2.

“Out of Time” (1991): A beguiling collection of beautiful pop songs.

“Automatic for the People” (1992): In many ways the most emotionally wrenching album the group ever made.

“New Adventures in Hi-Fi” (1996): The last album of the Bill Berry era and one of the band’s most underrated, a collection of scrappy, poignant, anxiety-ridden songs recorded hit-and-run style on the road.

greg@gregkot.com