Three albums into their incarnation as a trio, R.E.M. are recording some of the best songs of their career, according to guitarist Peter Buck.
"If we quit today, we'd have half of the greatest record we've ever made," Buck said from his Seattle home a day before flying to Vancouver to join singer Michael Stipe and bassist Mike Mills for another round of recording sessions. "Nine of the songs are as good as anything we've ever written." The band's still-untitled follow-up to 2001's Reveal, which was their second without founding member Bill Berry on drums, is due next year.
Buck said R.E.M. have recorded 35 tracks, with a few weeks of recording left before they begin a summer world tour. Among those joining them in the studio so far are former Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin and Young Fresh Fellows leader and frequent collaborator Scott McCaughey.
Though he isn't expected to appear on the album, multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow of the Posies will tour with the group. Among the bands opening for R.E.M. on their fall North American tour, which kicks off on September 3 in Portland, Oregon, are Wilco, Ed Harcourt, Sparklehorse and Pete Yorn (see "R.E.M. Touring Behind Hits Disc With Wilco, Others").
Buck said many of the songs the group has recorded remind him of the band's landmark 1987 album, Document, which featured the hits "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and "The One I Love." "It reminds me of Document if it were more acoustic and crazier," Buck said. "There are already seven songs we've done that have to be on there." Among the tracks expected to make the cut is the band's recently posted reaction to the war in Iraq, "The Final Straw," which will likely show up in an altered form.
The band's tour will coincide with a greatest-hits album, which is expected to feature two new tracks, including "Bad Day," a fan favorite that has been heavily bootlegged but never officially released. The song, recorded around the time of Document, has been recut for inclusion on the career retrospective.