Living in Athens Georgia, it amazes me to see how few people in the area can name more than two songs from the area's most famous band -- R.E.M. Maybe it's because most of their material released during our time has been subpar. Albums like Up
just don't have the same appeal that classics like Murmur
had. Heck, I wasn't even born yet when the album I'm reviewing was released (Missed it by about a year).
Anyhow, I apologize for digressing there, but my main point is that REM often remains forgotten about by young adults today. Many new musicians scorn it because it's too poppy; many teeny-boppers don't think it's poppy enough. However, the fact remains that R.E.M. essentially defined alternative rock with five classic albums ranging from 1983 to 1987. Life's Rich Pageant
is possibly the most solid offering of the pre-major label era of the band. There were no mega-hits, but you could definitely tell that something big was eventually going to come from the southern group.
If you fall into the majority of people my age (less likely, as this is a musician website), R.E.M. has a unique sound. In short, they can be described as jangle-rock. As I stated above, they defined alternative before that label was dumped off on Nirvana and their clones. They had a way to fuse folk and punk music with pop arrangements and accessibility. Their music wouldn't make you think about immortality; they weren't (until 1988's Green
, at least) overly political, and their compositions were palatible to the average person.
But why Life's Rich Pageant
? What makes this album so special? Well, first off, The musicianship is top-notch. Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe could come up with hooks that would get stuck in your head for days. You could finally understand what Stipe was saying while he was singing without having the dark, creepy tones throughout the album like on Fables of the Reconstruction
, released the year before. In short, LRP captured R.E.M. during their late '80's prime. They were serious enough not to be written off as a joke, but still had a sense of fun about them that many fans seem to think has been lost as of late.
And what would a Paul150 review be like without a TxT section? The starting track, Begin the Begin
shows the way R.E.M. could blend folk and punk music to write a catchy song that could be stuck in your head for days on end. A simple, yet driving guitar riff perfectly drives along Stipe's newly clarified vocals. The upbeat rock continues on the next track in These Days
. Starting at a fervent pace, the urgency in the music and Stipe's lyrics crescendos in every chorus. You can hear Buck's trademark jangle-rock sound during the verses as well. Almost perfect backing vocals match Stipe during the choruses to make a perfect duet of album-opening songs.
Next is what is probably the biggest radio hit from the album, Fall on Me
. A welcome change in pace from the urgency of the first two tracks, it's a pretty, yet slightly dark ballad that shows how Stipe has also become quite the lyricist. It also proves that Peter Buck and Mike Mills are some of alt-rock's most underrated backing vocalists. After this number is another slightly sombre song, Cuyahoga
, another slow, jangly ballad. It's not one of my favorites, as it seems to drag, but it's still worth a listen or two.
The pace picks back up again with Hyena
. It reminds me of some older R.E.M. stuff, as the vocals are probably the hardest to pick up on the album. In short, it's a pretty generic-sounding R.E.M. song that features some decent piano work at parts. After that song is perhaps the only filler track on the album, Underneath the Bunker
. It's essentially an instrumental with some Spanish-sounding guitar and some organ in the back. There are some indecipherable vocals towards the end run through some lo-fi effects towards the end. However, though it is filler, it still shows the band's sense of humor, and it acts like a bridge separating the halves of the album.
Up next is another beautiful ballad in the form of Flowers of Guatemala
. With some nice keyboards in the background, I think it is one of the best tracks on the album. Top it off with the fact that Buck offers a rare guitar solo, and you have another great track to add to a great album. A fast banjo arpeggio starts I Believe
, giving way to the standard '80's Peter Buck guitar arpeggio. It's another upbeat song that fits nicely after a ballad.
What If We Give It Away
is another fairly generic-sounding track. It's medium-paced, but it features some incredibly emotional vocals on the chorus and profecient verse instrumentation. Just a Touch
is the heaviest song on the album, with a punk guitar riff driving the verses and a sharp, staccato guitar driving the chorus. Some rocking piano and organ adds a lot to this loose rocker that is another of my favorites on the album.
What would an R.E.M. album be without the dark, introspective folk piece? Swan Song H
fits the bill perfectly. Dark acoustic guitars drive the song rhythmically while Stipe's distinct voice is the obvious centerpiece of the music. Superman
is my favorite off the album, and shows that the band can write a funny piece without it being written off as a total joke. It's a catchy two-chord love song started off with a short sketch about Godzilla. If I'm not mistaken, it was also a minor radio hit, as well.
For what it is, Life's Rich Pageant
is an excellent album. It's not full of insane guitar work or extremely introspective lyrics. What it is happens to be a light, poppy, guitar-driven alternative record. If that's what you're looking for, then it is hard to find a better album. LRP is also a great introduction to the 1980's R.E.M. that is far superior to the newer stuff. For general sound and lack af any truly weak tracks (excepting Underneath the Bunker
), I feel compelled to give this a 4.5/5.
Great musicianship and writing
Full of strong tracks
Great overall sound
May be too simple or jangly-sounding for some
Many songs sound similar to one another
Begin the Begin
Fall on Me
Flowers of Guatemala
Swan Song H
(I'll fix any formatting errors as soon as I find them)