In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 by Warner Bros.
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How do you condense 15 years of music down to 76 minutes? In the case of this survey of the second phase of R.E.M.'s career, the answer is: Exceptionally well. The dangling carrot for diehards is two new songs; the rapid fire "Bad Day" hurtles along like the kissing cousin of "It's the End of the World as We Know It," while "Animal" is anchored by a majestic drone reminiscent of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." In a surprising, but gratifying move, the rest of the program shortchanges the band's breakthrough, Out of Time (no "Shiny Happy People"), to better accommodate movie soundtrack contributions, and spotlight gems from the less commercial, post-Bill Berry albums Reveal and Up; with its baroque piano and multi-tracked vocal harmonies, the Beach Boys homage "At My Most Beautiful" is particularly gorgeous, while the burbling keyboards and slightly dazed singing of "All the Way to Reno" will appeal to Flaming Lips fans. --Kurt B. Reighley