REM: Unplugged 1991 & 2001

Acoustic REM output suitable for zombie apocalypse

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Unplugged 1991 & 2001 collects together the two sets Stipe & Co recorded for MTV Unplugged. It was first released on Record Store Day as a quadruple vinyl set, and is now out as a double CD.

MTV Unplugged. Is that still going?

Well, sort of. Miley Cyrus – famous for twerking, being Dolly Parton’s goddaughter and breaking her father’s achy breaky heart – did some unplugged tunes for MTV recently, but it’s more a brand than a series these days. Not like in the early 90s, when it was a chance for an artist to prove they could still perform without electricity – such as after a zombie apocalypse for example.

If there were a zombie apocalypse, would this REM collection be a good soundtrack (providing we could find some battery-power of course)?

It would. It would certainly keep you calm and carrying on, that’s for sure. The thing about REM was that the Unplugged format really suited them. And unlike some acts (we’re looking at you Bruce Springsteen) they actually did unplug and keep it low-fi and (we’re looking at you Rod Stewart) didn’t just use it to flog their Greatest Hits. But then R.E.M. were luckier than most acts asked to go on Unplugged: they had loads of great songs that were essentially acoustic anyway – the best tracks on Out Of Time, Automatic For The People and Reveal are all quiet and folky. It’s only the hits from Green and the more complex Brian Wilson-inspired stuff that wouldn’t work unplugged – but Losing My Religion, So Central Rain and World Leader Pretend sound better the more stripped down they get.

There are two Unplugged sets here – from 1991 and 2001.

Yes, they were the only act to perform on the show twice.

How different do they sound?

There’s hardly any difference. Bill Berry had left by 2001 of course and Stipe’s vocals are a bit more, erm, well travelled, but they sound pretty similar. Both sets feature Losing My Religion and you can barely tell them apart. On the 2001 TV recording they had Michael Stipe looking back on his 1991 self (when he had hair and looked less like an international villain) with nostalgia. But listening to just the audio recordings, they sound like they could have been recorded back-to-back.

What are the highlights?

Well, if you’re after something a little unusual it’s Mike Mills taking lead vocals on their cover of Love Is All Around in 1981 and Stipe ba-ba-ing backing vocals. But for me it’s a lovely run of Country Feedback, Cuyahoga, Imitation Of Life and Find The River in the 2001 set that reminds me why I used to love them so much. In fact it’s making me miss them and wished they’d reform.

Any rarity value?

Well, yes. Even if you watched the original shows and have them on VHS there’s 11 tracks here that didn’t make it to broadcast, including Swan Swan H, Rotary 11 and World Leader Pretend in 1991 and I’ve Been High, I’ll Take The Rain and Sad Professor in 2001.

Do say: Great songs don’t need studio trickery.

Don’t say: I’d prefer them with a bit more auto-tune.


Johnny Dee

Johnny Dee is a freelance copywriter, creative and journalist. He's been published The Times, The Independent, Q  NME, Q, Smash Hits, The Word as well as in The Guardian, writing pieces for G2, online and The Guide, where he edits the weekly back page feature Infomania. He's got a long history as a music journalist and is also fond of sport (currently contributing to Runner's World and FourFourTwo).