An REM live video (as they used to be called back in the digital-free days) is always an event. Both Tourfilm and Road Movie were masterpieces of the genre. The use of different types of film stock and genuinely creative methods of camera technique ensured that the experience remained as exhilarating for the home viewer as it was for the fan who could say "I was there".
Perfect Square, however, is far more conventional. Capturing the band's appearance at an open air gig in Wiesbaden, Germany during July 2003, this is a perfectly professional production that will delight many casual fans. Yet for those hardy souls who have followed Michael Stipe and company through their career, it may prove disappointing given their previous record.
If you're just after a straight REM gig souvenir though, then this can't be faulted. For a start, the track listing covers most of the band's best songs and is actually far more comprehensive than last year's In Time compilation. From fan favourites such as Man On The Moon and The One I Love, taking in gems such as Drive and Bad Day and even including lesser known tracks like So Fast So Numb, every facet of REM's back catalogue is covered.
The band sound great too - the years of playing together have resulted in an incredibly tight unit, and Peter Buck is on particularly good form. The DVD's sound is excellent throughout, with 3 choices of Dolby Stereo 2.0, Dolby Stereo 5.1 and an room shatteringly loud, neighbour disturbing option of DTS.
Visually, although there aren't the idiosyncrasies of previous REM live material, it's still difficult to draw your eyes away from the stage. Michael Stipe may be getting older but he still looks like the coolest extra-terrestrial in rock. He's taken to drawing a stripe across his face and sings each wonderfully surreal lyric like it's the most important thing on Earth. The thing is, you believe him, even when he sings about pushing elephants up the stairs on The Great Beyond.
Stipe's charismatic presence is perfectly complemented by Buck and Mike Mills, both of whom manage to pull off the trick of looking perfectly ordinary yet every inch the rock star. It would be understandable if REM felt jaded playing such staples as Losing My Religion but they still sound almost impossibly vital.
The director sweeps his camera over the crowd and onto the stage to keep the energy levels up - handily enough, most of the audience seem to consist of nubile young women and he seems understandably happy to focus his lens on them. The only cringeworthy moment comes during Everybody Hurts in which the cigarette lighters are raised aloft - a cliché perhaps, but maybe an understandable one given that particualar song's emotional power.
Perfect Square is a reliable, polished memento of one of the best bands in the world. If you're looking for something that better explores REM's quirky side though, search out Tour Film or Road Movie instead. Otherwise, this makes a perfectly good complement to the Best Of compilation.