Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011
By Al Kaufman
For many people outside of Georgia, R.E.M. broke up about 15 years too late. They should have called it quits after Bill Berry retired and before Michael Stipe started bitching in his songs. R.E.M. had a few lean years in there, when Reveal, Up and the like were released, but showed a great creative resurgence with their last two studio albums, Accelerate and Collapse Into Now. But, alas, people had already moved on. R.E.M. realized this and wisely called it quits.
Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage (a description given by guitarist Peter Buck when asked to describe the band) is a 40-song career retrospective in chronological order. We hear Michael Stipe, during the band’s early, I.R.S. days, as he endearingly mumbles through “Gardening at Night” and “Radio Free Europe,” before really finding his voice around the time of 1987’s Document. After growing exponentially with songs such as “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love,” the band signed with Warner Brothers and got even bigger. “Stand,” “Everybody Hurts” and “Man in the Moon” made them on par with U2 as the biggest band at the time.
It’s after the first 25 songs, culminating with “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, that the CD quickly changes gears. The four CDs, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun, are represented by a total of five songs, some of the weakest on the retrospective. Luckily, songs like “Supernatural Superserious” and “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” (from Accelerate and Collapse Into Now, respectively) show up near the end to breathe new life into the music.
As for the three new songs, they are solid without being brilliant. “A Month of Saturdays” sounds like a demo that has the potential to become a really fun romp. Stipe’s vocals are at their purist, free of any overdubs. Unfortunately, the end result is that the song lacks the energy and power that R.E.M. demonstrated they still had near the end of their career. “We All Go Back To Where We Belong” and “Hallelujah” are both mid-tempo numbers that these guys could write in their sleep. Coming at the end of a 40-year career, both songs take on additional meanings, namely about finishing with style and grace, a feat that R.E.M. can say they have achieved.
While Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage is a retrospective, it is a pity it does not include outtakes and b-sides, a la the glorious Dead Letter Office CD, which included the drunken reading of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” Nothing like that here. This is strictly a greatest hits. But what makes it special is the liner notes. Band members, including Bill Berry, comment on each song. They speak freely about how unhappy they were with Around the Sun, or how important “Radio Free Europe ” was to them. Casual fans will be surprised to learn just how much songwriting drummer Bill Berry took part in in the early years, and all will be amused at their little asides, such as calling Green their “bubblegum heavy-metal record.”
R.E.M. fans have all these songs except the last three, and will all have favorites missing from this collection, but this CD is worth it for the liner notes alone. They show brilliant flashes of insight as to why this band was as fabulous as they were. The music ain’t too shabby either.