Friday, August 8, 2014

EP Corner: Chronic Town

It's time once again for EP Corner, where the album's little brother gets to enjoy the limelight for a little bit. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Of The Night, a four-track oddity by the Guillemots; today, I'm going all the way back to 1982, when a group of young men from Georgia kick-started their musical careers with five songs and a blue gargoyle.

That's right, today's EP is Chronic Town by everyone's favourite three letters. As far as I'm aware, R.E.M.'s debut release has never been available on its own CD - I didn't hear it until I bought Dead Letter Office, B-side and rarity album extraordinaire, which has the Chronic Town tracks tacked clumsily onto the end. This state of affairs makes CT a pretty easy thing to ignore when you first explore the R.E.M. discography.

But ignoring this record would be a big mistake. It's not just some optional obscurity in which only die-hard fans will find any value; it's a crucial chapter of R.E.M's story, and to overlook it would be to miss out on some of the best songs in the Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe canon. Gardening at Night, for example, is a big favourite among the R.E.M. faithful:

The band started including that song in their live sets again shortly before they split up. Obviously, there was much rejoicing.

Don't get the wrong impression, though - Chronic Town isn't one of those 'basically a single' EPs that's one good track and a clutch of rubbish. The other songs are just as good as Gardening at Night; between the frantically spooky Carnival of Sorts and the menacing Wolves, Lower, R.E.M. dropped a lot of early hints as to their mastery of atmospheric indie rock.

The only track I don't love is Stumble. It's longer than the others, and it doesn't really go anywhere or do much for anyone (at least, that's my opinion - if you visit an R.E.M. forum then I'm sure you'll find swarms of people who disagree).

Quite a few people think that Murmur was R.E.M.'s crowning achievement, but discounting the fact that Chronic Town is quite a bit shorter, I think it's actually the stronger of the two records. The EP is more consice than Murmur, as are the tracks upon it, and there's nothing on the debut album that's quite as good as Gardening at Night. If there's one release that really demonstrates the importance of EPs, it's this one!

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