For those of us still upset that R.E.M. broke up in 2011, here's a nice blast from the past: a double-disc set that collects all of R.E.M.'s two unplugged appearances on MTV.  R.E.M. Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions shows the band experimenting a bit, as well as where they were in two different decades of their career.

MTV's Unplugged series allowed bands to experiment a little (not to mention prove that they weren't all electronics and production), and R.E.M. certainly rose to the challenge.  For the 1991 session, the full band was there (Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe); by 2001 Bill Berry had left.  In both sessions, R.E.M. focused a lot on their then-current album (1991: Out of Time; 2001: Reveal), with a handful of older tracks covered for good measure.

The main difference between the sessions isn't Berry's absence (sorry Bill), but their "current" albums.  Out of Time already had a sparse, nearly-acoustic feel to it (plus the mandolin), so it transitioned easily into the unplugged format (even with questionable experimental songs like "Below" and "Endgame."  Reveal was a more standard-sounding album, so it didn't always work as well unplugged; it also wasn't one of R.E.M.'s best albums either; if only they'd done more than the one song from Automatic for the People in the 2001 session...

Overall, though, R.E.M. plays and sings very well with their R.E.M. Unplugged sessions.  Stipe's voice shines as much when unplugged as with the originals, and most of the songs work quite well unplugged (except for the disappointing version of "The One I Love," where the screaming chorus "Fire!" is simply stated).  R.E.M. Unplugged is a chance to enjoy anew a lot of great songs from R.E.M., in a different format than their usual style.  And, for the most part, it works.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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