Compile the best of REM's earliest output on one CD, and it's easy to see why it ultimately became one of the biggest bands in the world: optimism. That's the overwhelming feeling pervading Fine, a smartly sequenced collection spanning the Athens, Georgia, then-quartet's pre-major-label years. REM had nothing to lose (and everything to gain) as its members evolved from freewheeling garage-rock poets to influential pop storytellers, and were unapologetic about their lack of cynicism and unshakable confidence a fact Fine underscores with the inclusion of tunes that are strident (a rabble-rousing "Begin the Begin"), winsome (the sepia-toned "Perfect Circle"), and gloriously weird (the disco-funkin' "Can't Get There from Here"). But REM's unself-conscious innocence is most obvious in the way it infuses even the most melancholic songs with shimmers of hope. Pretty pop gems ("Fall on Me," "Talk About the Passion") dip and soar with jangly riffs as joyful as they are nostalgic, while even the murky taffy-pull "Feeling Gravity's Pull" finds redemption in Michael Stipe's soothing falsetto. Fine's limited-edition bonus disc of rarities and bandmembers' favorites is an absolute treat even for completists and bootleg collectors. Especially choice are the delicate slow-dance alternate version of "Gardening at Night," a gorgeous, haunting demo of "Hyena," and mid-1980s live cuts, including a smoking "Life and How to Live It."
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