Great Albums From R.E.M. And The Amps (For Cheap!): The Premiere Of ‘Bargain Spins’

We may be in a recession, but even when the economy is in the toilet, you still need to have great music. That’s why we invented “Bargain Spins,” a new feature that focuses on overlooked albums that also happen to be available in every used or bargain bin in every record store in the country (and if you don’t have a record store in your town anymore, you can still find them discounted in most every digital music store or on sites like Half.com). So enjoy some great records you might have missed.

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James’ Pick: The Amps, Pacer (1995): In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that 1995 was the year the alt-rock bubble burst. The tepid response to that summer’s Lollapalooza festival (featuring Sonic Youth as the headliners) had plenty to do with that, and so did Pacer. Originally intended to be little more than a Kim Deal solo album, Pacer blossomed — drunkenly, it seems — into a full-band recording after Kim’s sister Kelley was arrested for heroin possession and subsequently entered a rehab facility. Realizing that they were suddenly going to be releasing the follow-up to the Breeders’ breakthrough Last Splash album, Elektra Records ordered a huge first pressing of Pacer, and when it sold about as well as a delightfully lo-fi one-off could be expected to sell, Pacer was doomed to an eternal existence in bargain bin purgatory. Still, it’s a fabulous listen. Songs like “Tipp City” and “I Am Decided” crackle with live-wire, first-take energy, and free of the Breeders’ burden, Deal sounds like she’s having an absolute blast. Sure, Pacer was a commercial disaster, but rarely — if ever — do disasters shine so brightly.

Kyle’s Pick: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996): It seems strange to think of a band as seminal as R.E.M. having a reject album, but New Adventures in Hi-Fi stands as one of their great unloved collections. But it’s also a minor masterpiece that features a whole bunch of different moods and styles (from the faux-arena rock of “The Wake Up Bomb” to the propulsive electro of “Leave” to the whimsical “Electrolite”) and the last on-record performances by drummer Bill Berry (who left the band for health reasons). Recorded entirely on the road during the never-ending tour for Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi stumbled because of its fractured nature and its dour (but still brilliant) lead single “E-Bow the Letter.” Since it was the album that followed the kajillion-selling Monster, the market was inundated but people quickly recycled it in confusion. Time has been kind to it, though, and knowing what the band became following Berry’s departure, it’s a fascinating look at a huge band transitioning into something entirely different. It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s a gorgeous mess.