sat 20/07/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: R E M | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: R.E.M.

Reissue CDs Weekly: R.E.M.

The surprise return of ‘In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003’

R.E.M.'s 2003 take on the blue moon, as seen on the sleeve of 'In Time'

In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 was issued by Warner Bros. in October 2003. Hitting shops in time for Christmas, it mixed hits like “Everybody Hurts”, “Man on the Moon” and “Orange Crush” with album and soundtrack cuts, and a couple of previously unissued tracks. Released as an 18-track CD, it was initially issued as double-disc set with the additional material drawn from B-sides, more film soundtracks and live performances. There was also a Europe-only double-album version featuring the core 18 tracks.

That vinyl version has sold for between £40 and £220. At the time of writing, copies are on sale for asking prices between £250 and a mind-boggling £440.

In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003Compare this with R.E.M.’s debut single, “Radio Free Europe” (pictured below left). The first pressing, in 1981, was of 1000 copies on the specially created Hib-Tone label. Copies have sold for between £150 to £350.

One of these records was a widely distributed major-label, mass-market pressing of mostly easily available tracks which went on sale after the band became internationally famous. The other was issued when R.E.M. were pretty much unknown and barely distributed. There ought to be no price parity between In Time and “Radio Free Europe”. Yet there is.

Obviously then, there is some sort of market for In Time and a new vinyl-only reissue has duly arrived. It’s a straight dupe of the original album and comes on the Craft Recordings label, a sub-division of the American independent imprint the Concord Music Group. Pressed in Germany by Optimal Media (as the original album was) and distributed by Universal Music, it's licensed from R.E.M.’s business arm. A blue-vinyl run has been pressed for exclusive sale in the US book chain Barnes & Noble. No information has been given on how many of these deliberate collector’s items have been pressed – they are already selling elsewhere for £25 to £80.

R.E.M. Radio Free Europe Hib-ToneThe sound of the new version doesn’t markedly vary from the original CD, though it’s a little more dynamic and open. The release carries no details of how it was mastered. Presumably, it uses In Time's 2003 digital sources. Furthermore, it may not draw from the source masters of the individual albums and singles which were, in turn, brought together in 2003. It therefore probably employs duplicates made in 2003 of tracks originally heard earlier and elsewhere, for example on albums like 1988’s Green or 1992’s Automatic for the People.

Although In Time is a useful primer on post-mega R.E.M., it's never screamed that it’s a major release or an important part of their catalogue. At the time, the sleeve image of a blue moon felt uninspired. The 1987 compilation Dead Letter Office was more interesting as it took a more creative approach to its track selection. If it weren’t for the inexplicable market prices of the original pressing of In Time, it’s hard to see why a reissue is needed. Can anyone reading this suggest why the 2003 vinyl version fetches such high prices? It was on Warner, so cannot have been that limited a pressing – at least 10,000 copies must have been manufactured. Why would it sell for more than a Hib-Tone “Radio Free Europe”?

The selling price of the new In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 19882003 in its black-vinyl form – which is marketed world-wide – is between £27 or £28. The promotional material does not reveal how many were pressed.

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