Following the release of R.E.M.'s "complete" Unplugged performances, the now defunct group has gone deep into its archives to offer "complete" packages of their discography for digital release, including over 150 rare songs. In addition to bundles of the albums they released on both I.R.S. Records and Warner Bros. on iTunes, the alt-rock trailblazers have compiled two complementary packages of hard-to-find recordings. The Complete Rarities: I.R.S. 1982-1987 offers 25 non-album tracks from their early days, while The Complete Rarities: Warner Bros: 1988-2011 contains 131. Both are available on Amazon as well as iTunes.
The I.R.S. set features studio B sides like "White Tornado" and "Voice of Harold," in-studio covers of bands like the Velvet Underground ("There She Goes Again," "Pale Blue Eyes") and their contribution to the Bachelor Party soundtrack ("Windout"). Meanwhile, the Warner Bros. collection features live and studio covers (from Iggy Pop to the Ohio Players), live tracks ("Losing My Religion" in Rome from 1992 and "Bang and Blame" on Saturday Night Live), alternate mixes (a "Dance to the Music" take on "Shiny Happy People"), non-album tracks ("Fretless," "Arms of Love"), instrumental versions ("Orange Crush"), soundchecks and more.
All of the releases, including the regular album bundles, are "Mastered for iTunes" editions. Also notable is the fact that the new digital offerings include the group's debut EP, Chronic Town, which remains unavailable on CD.
The group recorded the latter release in 1982, establishing its jangly college-rock style and frontman Michael Stipe's idiosyncratic vocal approach. It is available to purchase individually on iTunes, as well as part of the Complete I.R.S. Studio Albums bundle (which also includes 1983's Murmur, 1984's Reckoning, 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction, 1986's Life's Rich Pageant and the band's double-platinum 1987 commercial breakout, Document).
A separate set of the band's Warner Bros. era albums contains the band's first five albums for that label: Green (1988), Out of Time (1991), Automatic for the People (1992), Monster (1994) and New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996). The five subsequent R.E.M. albums (including their 2011 swan song, Collapse Into Now) are available individually.
Earlier this week, bassist Mike Mills told Billboard that the band had "a lot of stuff in the vaults," though because the interview was in the context of the Unplugged reissues, it's unclear whether he was referring to the music released on the just-released rarity comps or further previously unreleased recordings. "We all want to do something with this stuff," he said. "We know we've got some really good things hanging around. We just want to put them out in a way that makes them as special as possible, because they're special to us. I mean, if we've been sitting on stuff for this long, why go cheap with it now? Let's try to make it be special rather than just dumping out the vaults."