Artist – Album: R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant
Released: 28th July 1986
Sounds Like: Classic, political college rock
The contrast between R.E.M.’s early, cultish image and their all conquering status a decade later is startling. Despite each of their albums being granted critical acclaim, when their fourth album was released they were still seen as an underground act. Lifes Rich Pageant, however, stands as one of the first markers to their ascent to eventual global stardom.
Unlike previous releases, the band’s sound was much cleaner and clearer here, and songs like ‘Fall on Me’ and ‘I Believe’ have gorgeous poppy melodies that make them sound like perfect radio fodder. The cover of Cliques ‘Superman’ is as disposable as R.E.M. got at this juncture in their career, although it still remains great. Michael Stipe’s brilliant, unique voice wraps itself around some of his less cryptic set of lyrics (relatively speaking of course), and he, for the most part, is decipherable.
That’s not to say that the guys were selling out for greater commercial success. Stipe’s lyrics have a political bent for the first time, and songs like ‘Cuyahoga’ stand as some of the best environmentally-minded songs ever. ‘The Flowers of Guatemala’ seems to be an indictment of the US-backed military regime in Guatemala in the fifties, whilst ‘Swan Swan H’ is an obtuse examination of the American Civil War. Furthermore, as accessible and enjoyable as the indie folk of this album is, it still diverges unexpectedly at times, never more so than the odd flamenco turn of ‘Just a Touch’.
No, the band didn’t compromise their identity to curry more favour with the record buying public; people just finally started to realise their brilliance.
Albumaday... rating: 8/10
1. Begin the Begin – 3:28
2. These Days – 3:24
3. Fall on Me – 2:50
4. Cuyahoga – 4:19
5. Hyena – 2:50
6. Underneath the Bunker – 1:25
7. The Flowers of Guatemala – 3:55
8. I Believe – 3:49
9. What If We Give It Away? – 3:33
10. Just a Touch – 3:00
11. Swan Swan H – 2:42
12. Superman – 2:52
Listen to ‘Superman’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxQS6lfn0yU
Also released on the 28th July:
1992: Barenaked Ladies – Gordon