R.E.M.’s swan-song compilation album, last year’s Part Lies, Part Truth, Part Heart, Part Garbage, wasn’t even issued on vinyl, a format that has enjoyed a renaissance amongst collectors and audiophiles and was integral to the band’s early years. If guitarist Peter Buck’s recent activity is any indication, he wasn’t in the room for that decision.
You see, Buck’s debut solo album, the first new material from any R.E.M. member since the college rock pioneers amicably split last September 21 at approximately 11 a.m. EST (I’m clearly not holding a grudge over it), is available only on wax. You can’t buy Peter Buck, which officially arrived October 5, for $8 less on CD or conveniently download it through iTunes and get a bonus track. And no, the next Record Store Day isn’t for another six weeks; that’s just how much Buck prefers vinyl over its digital alternatives.
It should be noted that Buck is a former record store clerk and notorious record collector. He and R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe met while the former was working at Athens, Georgia’s Wuxtry Records. Buck, whose vinyl collection is 20,000-strong, went back to work there while R.E.M. took a short break in 1986, even though he was a member of one of America’s hottest rock & roll acts.
He could’ve named this record Buck You, because its exclusively-vinyl issue isn’t the only middle-finger to the music industry’s usual way of doing things. The limited 2,000-copy run was released through a label, Portland, Oregon’s Mississippi Records, that doesn’t even have a website. Neither does the artist.
So where to order it? You have to PayPal or send a check to its mail-order distributor and hope he still has a copy, or wait until it arrives at your local record store. That last part is if you’re lucky; only three dozen across the U.S. will stock it.
Fortunately for me, Minneapolis’ excellent Treehouse Records is one of those. I went there around noon on the record’s official release day and was told it hadn’t come in yet and that I was about the fifth person that had asked since the shop opened two hours prior. This comforted me, as I often worry that R.E.M’s legacy and Buck’s six-string genius are forgotten, while making me nervous at the same time, because what if it came down to me and a little old lady for the last copy in stock? I’d like to think I’d act valiantly in that situation, but all bets are off the table when it comes to Peter Buck.
I got the same answer when I called back every five minutes over the next three days.
Of course, Treehouse was only my back-up plan. I had blindly sent the distributor $17 after reading his email address on Facebook, not bothering to check its legitimacy. It worried me that my emails had gone unacknowledged and that I hadn’t received the record by Tuesday, but when I got home the next day, there it was: a large square shipping container addressed to me. If you listen in the right places, you can still hear the echoes from my shrieks of excitement upon seeing that the record was signed by my favorite guitarist.
If none of your nearby record stores are stocking the album and you want to order it through Amazon, the site says they’ll have it available October 30. However, R.E.M. diehards are sure to have snatched up most of the copies by then.
I’m obviously biased, but it’s a fantastic record. Those who go in expecting Peter Buck to be R.E.M. with the guitarist singing will be disappointed (although bassist Mike Mills does play on the album), but there’s no denying the catchiness of cuts like “10 Million BC” and “So Long Johnny.” The LP is also notable in that it marks Buck’s first time on lead vocals, aside from a verse on R.E.M.’s obscure cover of Roky Erikson’s “I Walked with a Zombie.”
Whether intentionally or not, Buck made hunting down a record enjoyable for at least one of his acolytes this week. In the age of instant gratification via iTunes and Amazon, that’s 90 percent of the fun.