R.E.M. has always seemed a bit too fey and sensitive for comfort. A Simon & Garfunkel for the '80s, they evoke images of a lovelorn swain gazing pensively at the rain through lace curtains. However, this pleasantly surprising collection of B-sides, outtakes and oddities reveals that the Athens, Ga., quartet has a fine sense of humor as well as excellent taste in outside material.
Included here are a ferocious rendition of Aerosmith's "Toys in the Attic," three Lou Reed songs (Michael Stipe's vocal on "Pale Blue Eyes" is surely one of the best he's committed to wax) and Roger Miller's "King of the Road," which the group seriously mangles: The song wobbles aimlessly along in classic "late night, a bit too much wine" fashion, Stipe blowing the lyrics throughout, then finally limps to a close.
Add to that two sprightly instrumentals, a tune called "Voice of Harold," which features fascinatingly cryptic improvisatory lyrics by Stipe, and "Windout," a song they wrote seven years ago that stands among their best. Altogether a thoroughly charming collection of odds and sods--better than their last "serious" album, in fact.