R.e.m. - Life's Rich Pageant
It was recommended to me by a friend and turned out to be an album was one which both surprised and pleased me. It is perhaps fortunate that I chose to delve into the band's music at this point. Having since heard earlier R.E.M. albums I feel I would not have been too keen had I started with, say, Fables of the Reconstruction - too mellow and too much lyrics sung into an anorak for my liking. Michael Stipe might not have the best voice on the planet, but it is unique and it really seemed to take him until this album before he felt confident enough to let it assume full prominence.
"Cuyahoga" is the outstanding track, especially the rousing refrain which carries the listener away. Given R.E.M.'s environmental credentials I guess it is loosely based around the infamous incident when the river of the same name caught fire in Cleveland due to flammable pollutants in the water. However, there is much more to enjoy beyond that one track. Right up there among the highlights are "Begin The Begin" and "Flowers of Guatemala" which also grab the attention and hold it. This was a much stronger album than I thought it would be. There are good melodies and strong hook lines. It is also surprisingly political, something which may escape the casual or cursory listener the first time round.
In my view this album and its successor represent the pinnacle of what R.E.M. have achieved and is something they were never able to capture again. By now they were on the cusp of becoming big, and in my view it was that very bigness which ultimately spoiled them for me. Like a lot of independent music, it tends to lose something when it signs for a major label. And R.E.M. were no exception to that general rule. Their later albums seemed to lack the spark which had made them so impressive when I first discovered them and I quickly deserted them for pastures new.
Is there any coincidence that this was one of their last albums for IRS? One of the things which contributed to its success in my eyes was that it was not over-produced. That IRS could not afford the fancy production and post-production of the bigger labels meant that R.E.M. had basically to get it right on the button first time. This resulted overall in a tighter, more immediate sound, and one not necessarily aimed at the commercial market. Today the production sounds dated, but that is part of its charm. Thankfully, the remastering hasn't completely ruined it.
I now have the remastered version, which also has some interesting additional tracks as well. There are a few demos and other outtakes on this as well as a number of alternative versions. Most of them seem to add little new to the mix but I can recommend you check out the acoustic version of "Swan Swan H" for example.
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on 2008-05-15 psychoticbarber Said:
Released in 1986, Lifes Rich Pageant is the fourth album by alternative rock band R.E.M. It directly follows the album Fables of the Reconstruction. The album is not particularly long, only about forty minutes in its entirety, with twelve tracks. The band consists of Michael Stipe (Lead Vocalist), Peter Buck (Guitar), Mike Mills (Bass, Vocals), and Bill Berry (Drums, Vocals).
This album is a little heavier than the previous work by R.E.M., but it is by no means a hard-edged piece of work. It builds from the country-inspired Reckoning, two albums previous, through the more introspective rock of Fables of the Reconstruction, and into the first real shining gem released by the band. The opening track, Begin the Begin, showcases this step forward though an edgy guitar lick and the creative use of feedback. One thing I noticed right away was a change in the tenor of lead vocalist Michael Stipe's voice. Where before there was a lingering tinny, nasal quality to it; Stipe's confidence takes over and delivers the lyrics with a newfound strength.
Cuyahoga, the fourth track, refers to a river in Ohio that has, on a few occasions, actually caught fire. It's one of the strongest tracks lyrically. Also strong is the sixth track, Underneath The Bunker. Here the album takes a quick detour from its path and swerves into an oddly distorted dance (likely one of the latin dances, but I don't really know), where Stipe's voice is all but incomprehensible. The description sounds bad, but it's one of the most fascinating things on the album. There aren't really any weak songs, but the rest of the album remains rather in line with the style set out in the first few tracks.
For me, this album represents the beginning of the second segment of the band's career. The change marks a new level of maturity and confidence in the artists, which was reflected in the comparative success of the album. Lifes Rich Pageant was R.E.M.'s first major hit outside the college radio world, and stands as a fundamental part of the alternative rock scene.