In the early '80s, two young bands released debut EPs through I.R.S., then a fledgling new wave label. One of those bands, Athens, Ga.'s R.E.M., stayed with I.R.S. for another five albums, evolving an idiosyncratic, widely imitated folk-rock sound. Without concessions to commercialism, the college radio favorites became underground rock's most successful band. Last year's "Document" easily "went platinum" (sold a million copies), setting the stage for the band's defection this year to Warner Bros., traditionally the most venturesome of the country's largest labels.
L.A.'s Bangles left I.R.S. after that first EP, signing with mainstream powerhouse Columbia. "All Over the Place," the first album from the all-woman quartet, made only a small splash, but the group takes direction well: The Bangles have released only three albums in the past six years, but the latter two have been impeccably groomed, enlisting session musicians and outside material to achieve a glossy, salable sound. The group's second album, 1985's double-platinum "Different Light," spawned four Top 15 singles.
The tyranny of the pop marketplace has at least one advantage: It makes it easier to determine what songs should go on the greatest hits album. Faced with that challenge for R.E.M., an album band if there ever was one, I.R.S. has done a passable job. Each R.E.M. fan will have his own disagreements with "Eponymous" (I.R.S., all formats)-"Talk About the Passion" and "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" seem particularly dubious choices-but the real question is what purpose the record serves at all.
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