I suppose if you’re not going to be first then you might as well be last. So I think that I can claim that distinction in terms of reflecting on the demise of R.E.M.

The irony is that I’d been meaning to write about the band for some time, in fact well before the announcement of the split a few weeks back. But let’s deal with that first.

It does seem to me like a good time to go – the records, whilst selling in respectable numbers by anyone else’s standards, haven’t been vital for well over a decade. Creatively R.E.M. seemed impervious to outside influences and the records were increasingly predictable, allowing for the odd shift in emphasis.

Yet, both ‘Accelerate’ and ‘Collapse Into Now’ were decent efforts and improvements on the dull ‘Reveal’ and ‘Around The Sun’. R.E.M. at least can say that they never disgraced themselves.

My only regret is not getting to hear the better material from the last two albums live. With some of their older material that could have made a great show.

So, it’s a shame in many ways that they’re not still around but, to be honest, I can’t say that I’m that sad about the news. At least they’ve left a lengthy legacy behind them.

The irony of course is that, despite the split, 2011 is going to be the busiest year for R.E.M. releases, like, ever.

Fourth LP ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ was re-issued a couple of months back in deluxe format and it’s a great reminder of just how good R.E.M. were. It’s probably still my favourite LP from the back catalogue being a record which provides a bridge between the earlier works and the imminent huge selling records. It’s got a lush sound compared to the strident ‘Document’ and contains any number of classic R.E.M. songs. Every collection should own a copy.

The bonus disc this time follows the demos route rather than the live discs packaged with ‘Murmur’ and ‘Reckoning’. It’s a much more successful disc than the equivalent disc packaged with ‘Fables of the Reconstruction’ covering a broader spectrum of material than the parent LP with a few surprises.

Some of the versions here are very early  takes with incomplete song structures and/or lyrics whilst the non-LP tunes range from the prototype ‘Bad Day’ to an instrumental version of ‘King of Birds’ which wouldn’t appear until ‘Document’. Whilst none of the otherwise unreleased songs are strictly essential they do lend the whole package a relevance that the ‘Fables’ package lacked.

Released around the same time was the ‘Songs for a Green World’ live album. As the title suggests, the CD is a recording from the ‘Green’ tour so there’s a chunk of ‘Pageant’ material on here too, even if the set is drawn in the main from ‘Document’ and ‘Green’ itself’.

For completists there are a couple of covers included Pylon’s ‘Crazy’ (a studio version of which was included on ‘Dead Letter Office’) and Mission of Burma’s ‘Academy Fight Song’. I can’t imagine it’s going to appeal beyond dedicated R.E.M. fans but overall it’s a good set, even if it’s a slightly thin live recording typical of the time. Not quite sure how these things can appear outside of the Warners empire but if you fondly remember the R.E.M. of the time then it’s worth getting a hold of.

As if that wasn’t enough, then there’s another Best of compilation planned before the year’s end. ‘Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage’ is (I think) the first compilation to draw together material from both the IRS and Warners’ catalogues. And the hook for completists this time is that there are three tracks recorded after the release of ‘Collapse Into Now’. Which, let’s be honest, isn’t as enticing as it might have once been, but will probably ensure that it ends up in my Christmas stocking.

The compilation will be preceded by the digital release of one of the new tracks ‘We All Go Back To Where We Belong’ this week, apparently.

Buy ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ here, ‘Songs for a Green World’ here and pre-order ‘Part Lies…’ here.

Some classic R.E.M. which features on all 3 releases: