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#7 R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant

September 26th, 2013

R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant

I return from vacation from beautiful but flooded Colorado. I do have to say that our time was well spent there, however, certain changes had to be made to our itinerary since flooding did knock out some of the roads and I guess you take it as Inspector Clouseau would in that it is all part of life’s rich pageant.

Outside of the ridiculous nature of the quote, it somewhat is thematically perfect for this album. After the difficulties of making Fables of the Reconstruction, there appears an almost newfound confidence for the band.

For all the pomp that the band got for the release of ‘Document’, and deservedly so for their first true Hit in “The One I Love” as well as the culturally significant “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ sees the band finally putting the pieces in place as a successful rock band. Michael Stipe begins to enunciate, they create a viable message and continue down the road of writing catchy pop songs. ‘Document’ might be one of the series of coming out parties, but Lifes Rich Pageant is a stronger set of music from beginning to end. The political motivations are stronger with a strong first half consisting of the hard rocking ‘Begin the Begin’ and ‘These Days’ exhibiting the emotion behind political movements without all the historical motivations that allow for songs to lose their luster.

The melodic “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoga” have played the role of environmental hits, although the former can also be considered an ode to “Chicken Little” ala “The Sky Is Falling, The Sky is Falling!”, and the latter to a river in Ohio with a very serious pollution problem at the time the band wrote the song. What situates albums like this so highly is not just the catchy pop music but the words by singer Michael Stipe who is the American Morrisey (or maybe Morrisey is the British Michael Stipe). At any rate, there is a definitive war brewing between the UK and the USA about this time as to what band is better: R.E.M. or the Smiths. Where R.E.M. wins is their rhythm section as Berry and Mills are clearly superior. Consider a song like “Superman”, we hear Mike Mills on lead vocals for the first time for this cover version of a tune by the 60s band The Clique and we start to hear the other strengths of this band.

For me it has been an album that has strengthened with time. It’s political motivations are just as strong in 1986 as they are now as they will be years from now. They were able to institute a purpose without the elements of the songs feeling dated. Stipe was a poet but an information source as well. If I were to recommend a starting place for R.E.M., this would probably be my personal favorite as it still has the spark of their early years, with the maturity of lyrics that you begin to see in the later years.

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