Album review: R.E.M., Dead Letter Office (1987)


By Steve Newton

For R.E.M. fans who can’t wait for the follow-up to last year’s Life’s Rich Pageant LP, there is now a unique compilation of b-sides and studio out-takes to keep them going. And what’s most surprising is that, on a whole, Dead Letter Office is as good as any album they’ve released before.

R.E.M.’s lovely habit of combining jangley, Byrds-like guitars, winsome vocals, and a rockin’ beat is well represented here by tunes like “Crazy”, “Burning Down”, and “Ages of You”. Six of the album’s 15 selections are out-takes from the group’s 1984 tour de force Reckoning. Considering the quality of the songs they decided to leave off, no wonder that record was such a killer.

Two of the tunes that never made it onto Reckoning were written by Lou Reed for the Velvet Underground–“Pale Blue Eyes” and “Femme Fatale”. Other gems included on Dead Letter Office are the surf instrumental “White Tornado” and a cover of “Toys in the Attic” that’s every bit as raucous as Aerosmith’s version.

There’s also a hilarious attempt at Rogers Miller’s “King of the Road” which, as guitarist Peter Buck’s liner notes say, “was recorded at the very end of a long, alcohol-soaked day.” Adds Buck: “If there was any justice in the world, Roger Miller should be able to sue for what we did to this song.”



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