If that's a compliment.
Here's a new and strange recipe for success. Release an unlistenable album every 18 months or so, but make sure that there's at least one song per disc that will make a bit of a splash on the radio. Watch fans buy the record--hoping for more of the great sound they heard on the air--then watch these disappointed fans flood used record stores across the country with a million billion copies of Monster and Reveal. After fifteen years of this, select out a few of the radio tracks and a few of the droning unlistenable stuff, add two new tracks, re-release and re-repeat.
I know: There are two schools of thought here. One is that the early albums (Murmur, Reckoning) rocked hard and that everything after (with bumps at Out of Time and Automatic) has been kind of a gradual descent into experimental stuff that sounds intriguing once, but which would never, ever make it into one's CD wallet for a long roadtrip. The other is that the band has been getting better and better with every album. Sorry to be blunt, but those who adhere to this second point of view are members of a small and dedicated cult who are desperately trying to cling onto god-knows-what delusions they have about this band. I'd never let any of these people within a hundred yards of the CD player at a party.
If you're a member of the esoteric order of Stipe and enjoy tracks like Reveal's "All the Way to Reno," then this is the album for you. However, if you like the early REM and the REM of the radio, you'll probably be better off getting one of your REM cultist buddies to make you a mix tape. Not that I'm advocating piracy, but if this is the legal, band-selected "best of," that might be the only way to get a good REM sampler.